KDnuggets : News : 2003 : n15 : item16 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >


6-degrees of separation in email?

In the current issue of the journal Science, researchers at Columbia University report the first large-scale experiment that supports the notion of "six degrees of separation," that a short chain of acquaintances can be found between almost any two people in the world. But the same study finds that trying to contact a distant stranger via acquaintances is likely to fail.

The "six degrees of separation" notion came from an experiment in 1967 by Dr. Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist, where a few hundred people tried to forward a letter to a particular person in Boston by sending it through people they knew personally. About a third of the letters reached their destination, after an average of six mailings.

Dr. Milgram's experiment inspired a notion that the billions of people in the world, widely separated by geography and culture, actually form a close-knit network of social acquaintances, that you are a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of anyone anywhere.

In this global study, more than 60,000 people tried to get in touch with one of 18 people in 13 countries. The targets included a professor at Cornell University, a veterinarian in the Norwegian army and a police officer in Australia. Despite the ease of sending e-mail, the failure rate turned out much higher than what Dr. Milgram had found, possibly because many of the recipients ignored the messages as drips in a daily deluge of spam.

Of the 24,613 e-mail chains that were started, a mere 384, or fewer than 2 percent, reached their targets. The successful chains arrived quickly, requiring only four steps to get there. The rest foundered when someone in the middle did not forward the e-mail.

Here is the full story from Science magazine.

KDnuggets : News : 2003 : n15 : item16 < PREVIOUS | NEXT >

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