August 08, 2003

Six Degrees of Bull$&*t

Ok its time to put it to rest. This six degrees of separation thing is getting distorted beyond belief. The basic story as its told is that everyone world is connected to each other by a chain of five friends, which is 6 degrees of separation. The initial source of all this was a study in the 60's by Stanley Milgram, but that study was too flaw to actually prove anything. But now a more rigorous study has been done.

Study: It's a small world, to a degree | CNET

Now what this study proves is that on average people seem to connected by about six degrees. But the general perception seems to be that it proves that everyone is connected by about six degrees. And that's bullshit. Check this quote:

People are more likely to try to find people whom they think will be easy to find, said Watts, who calls himself a mathematical sociologist. "We realized the demographics of our users--they were U.S.-based and heavily college-educated,'' he said. "People get the name of a professor and they say, 'This is easy, I could see how this would work,' and they do it; whereas if they get someone whose name they can't pronounce in a country they can't point to on a map, they say 'I don't know.'"

In other words people in similar demographics are tightly connected, but people in different demographics are not very connected at all. Odds are most people in the US and Slovenia are separated by far more then six degrees.

Two men, one in Croatia and one in Indonesia, proved the most elusive; a Cornell University professor got the most hits, Watts said in a telephone interview.

I can't tell for sure, but it looks like a lot of people might never have ever figured out a connection to those men. What this means is not the world is tightly connected by six degrees of separation, but that certain communities are densely connected, while others are not connected at all.

This draws the picture of a world of social clouds, where groups of thousands and hundreds of thousands are clustered in social groupings, with almost no connections to other social clouds. A lot of us are connected no doubt, but a lot of us aren't either and lets not forget that.

Posted by Abe at August 8, 2003 08:23 PM