Facebook and Yahoo Set Out To Prove 'Six Degrees' Experiment

By Tracey E. Schelmetic August 18, 2011

Are you really six degrees of separation away from Kevin Bacon? Or from the Pope, the mayor of Birmingham, England or the Unabomber, for example?

While the idea that almost everyone in the world is only six social contacts away from anybody else in the world has been a popular topic in sociology and pop culture for a long time, no one was ever really in a position to prove it on a wide scale.

Enter Facebook, which has more than 750 million active users all over the planet. If anyone can help prove the “six degrees” theory, it's the social networking phenomenon that Mark Zuckerberg built...with a little help from Yahoo.

This week, Yahoo Research launched an online study to test the pop-culture theory. Using Facebook and its army of users, Yahoo’s “Small World Experiment” is inviting people worldwide to attempt to send a message to a specified “target” by creating an online chain of connections, reports AdWeek.

Cameron Marlow, Facebook’s chief data scientist, points out that Facebook is in a better position than any other company in the world to offer the resources needed for the experiment.

“We believe that the average distance between two people is shrinking mostly because the types of connections you maintain online are a much better representation of people you know than the set of people you think about on a regular basis,” said Marlow. “The fact that you transcribed all of your relationships into something like Facebook allows you to stay in touch with a much wider audience. This give us not only a measurement on just how the world actually is but how well people can utilize those relationships to route messages across the world.”

Ten years ago, a researcher from Columbia University tried to test the theory using e-mail. The original “small world” experimenter, social psychologist Stanley Milgram, used handwritten and posted letters, said the Toronto. Neither experiment gained the type of traction the Facebook/Yahoo project is expected to gain.

One has to wonder if Kevin Bacon knows what he's in for...

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Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributor

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