Internet trends: marketing research & predictions

‘Obama’ Is Within Your 3 Degrees Of Separation: research review

September 22nd, 2008 by and


Back in the sixties, social psychologist Stanley Milgram found that on average it would take 5.2 intermediaries for his letter to go from the first person to its destination, via each person’s social network. This idea as a measure of our social networks, known as “six degrees of separation”.

(a small note: while Stanley Milgram’s “six degrees separation” is a popular social media icon today, not many realize that its the same Stanley Milgarm who is behind few historical experiments testing “obedience to authority“. The experiments measured the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts (they were ask to administer electronic shock to other participants!) that conflicted with their personal conscience. Unfortunately, many of them obeyed orders!).

In a large scale research conducted in 2006, Microsoft researchers [PDF] followed 30 bn IM conversations, among 240 million people around the world during a single month. Examining this data – the largest social network ever analyzed – they found that the average number of hops between any two instant messenger users was 6.6 – slightly higher than Milgram’s finding. However Microsoft researchers assumption that instant messaging between two people can be considered a marker of a relationship, is debatable.

Early this year a mixi engineer conducted his own version of small world experiment by checking how many steps it takes from his own mixi (Japanese most popular SN) account to each member choosing the shortest possible route via friends list . His observations were:

  • Six Degrees of Separation actually connects 88% of all users , and seven degrees connects 98% of mixi’s approx. 13 million registered members (as of Jan 2008).
  • Among the active users Six Degrees of Separation can actually connect 88% of all mixi users, while 98% of them are just seven steps away with each other. The average separation turned out to be 5.4 degrees.

With our ever growing appetite for Social Networks & quality of the contacts we maintain in various SNS, is it time to revisit Milgram’s magical six? A recent research commissioned by French mobile carrier O2 suggests so. The study found that the average person is now connected by just three degrees within a shared “interest” or social group instead of six.

  • 97% of the respondents stated they felt more connected to people and networks now than they did 5, 10 and 20 years ago.
  • Email and mobile phones were the key factors in reducing the degrees of separation as 98% of the respondents chose to use those to make contact with an unknown person across all age groups. Texting was also seen as a universally important technology whilst social networking sites such as Facebook were highly rated by the youngest age bracket but usage declined drastically the older in age was asked.

A larger scale research is needed to confirm these results. But, we couldn’t avoid presenting some thoughts:

It does seem reasonable that those last two years social boom, must have an effect on the number of separations.

There are specific groups it would be worth checking for further decrease: bloggers (one shot and you have a good chance attracting any other blogger), teenagers, twitterers – other suggestions?)

It is all about creativity of one reaching a pre-defined other. As more routes of communication opens, the more creative you can be to decrease separations between people. A creative combination of the different social tools one holds – can bring to minimize separation.

Why call it “separation” when its all about “connection”?

More thoughts?
How would you try to reach a stranger?

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2 Responses

  1. BrianBfox Says:

    I dont know what to say. This web site is amazing. Thats not truly a actually substantial statement, but its all I could come up with soon after reading this. You know a great deal about this subject. Much making sure that you produced me wish to understand additional about it. Your web site is my stepping stone, my buddy. Many thanks for that heads up on this theme.

  2. Chaya Says:

    Actually, Milgram found that many people are not related within 6 degrees. His experiment was more of a failure than even a proof that it isn’t true.

    Also, side note, i am 2 degrees of separation away from President Obama. 😉

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