On Facebook it is 4.74 degrees of separation, not six

November 21st, 2011

On Facebook, it’s 4.74 degrees of separation, not six, according to a new study by study by researchers at Facebook and the university of Milan.

“Think back to the last time you were in a crowded airport or bus terminal far from home. Did you consider that the person sitting next to you probably knew a friend of a friend of a friend of yours? In the 1960s, social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s “small world experiment” famously tested the idea that any two people in the world are separated by only a small number of intermediate connections, arguably the first experimental study to reveal the surprising structure of social networks.

With the rise of modern computing, social networks are now being mapped in digital form, giving researchers the ability to study them on a much grander, even global, scale. Continuing this tradition of social network research, Facebook, in collaboration with researchers at the Università degli Studi di Milano, is today releasing two studies of the Facebook social graph.

First, we measured how many friends people have, and found that this distribution differs significantly from previous studies of large-scale social networks. Second, we found that the degrees of separation between any two Facebook users is smaller than the commonly cited six degrees, and has been shrinking over the past three years as Facebook has grown. Finally, we observed that while the entire world is only a few degrees away, a user’s friends are most likely to be of a similar age and come from the same country.

A story in the New York Times, Separating You and Me? 4.74 Degrees points out how the scale of social network studies have grown.

“The original “six degrees” finding, published in 1967 by the psychologist Stanley Milgram, was drawn from 296 volunteers who were asked to send a message by postcard, through friends and then friends of friends, to a specific person in a Boston suburb. The new research used a slightly bigger cohort: 721 million Facebook users, more than one-tenth of the world’s population.”