RE: What is an acquaintance, and what is identity?

Lisa Dusseault (
Thu, 4 Jun 1998 14:53:39 -0700

I heard something on NPR this morning, related to the discussions on this
list on six degrees of separation. From what I remember 8 hours later:

Original social science researchers who came up with "six" degrees of
separation based the number on estimating that each person knew on average
1000 others.  With 2 degrees of separation (I know A who knows B), I can
reach 1 000 000 people, and with 3 degrees of separation I can reach 1 000
000 000 people, which is within an order of magnitude of world population.
Since this completely ignores duplication of friends, the original
researchers doubled the three degrees to get six as an estimate of
separation from anybody else in the world.  

New research into communities indicates that even though there is significant overlap within communities, especially small towns, there are sufficient well-connected individuals to link these communities to other communities. There doesn't have to be very many well-connected individuals, either -- one in a hundred, or one in a thousand. Like Kevin Bacon for actors, these well-connected individuals form part of the shortest path between many, many pairs of individuals. The number of degrees of separation (average? max??) may be as little as four or five, if you can only find the right path.

This research is apparently now being applied to computer networks to see if well-connected nodes can drastically cut down on the number of hops traffic takes.


Now, since I know I know more than 1000 people (estimate 2000), am I one of those well-connected people? Is Adam? Is Rohit? Others on this list? I wouldn't be surprised. So I bet FoRK is on the shortest path between many, many pairs of people!

I suspect that with increased mobility and increased connectedness, most north Americans (aside: I hate the fact that residents of USA have appropriated the term americans!) are getting way more than 1000 contacts. Like Adam, I don't feel exceptional in knowing a lot of people, except that I moved around. what about the rest of you?

I know people from: being related to them grade school in Alberta high school in Ontario high school in france high school in quebec university of Waterloo (hundreds of contacts from here) BNR (now nortel) Microsoft (even more contacts from here) orchestras I've played in volunteering I do IETF neighbours, mostly around my parents' home having people introduced to me by somebody fitting into above categories

Is that an unusual number of sources of contacts?

Hey, I just idly wondered what percent of all those I try to keep in touch with and I bet it's 3%. Yep, 30-60 seems like a reasonable estimate of the number of people I'd take the trouble to call or email if I hadn't heard from them in a while. What a great rule.

Does anybody know more about how the research is being applied to computer networks?

Oh yeah, and you may already know about this, but it's worth checking out It's not very useful, at least as currently being by my contacts, but it is cool in concept and fair in execution. And I think their privacy rules are quite fine. Not that that matters now that I'm "out" on FoRK, as others have pointed out. At least I haven't been called an ignorant slut yet, though I'm sure that's coming.


-----Original Message----- From: I Find Karma [] Sent: Thursday, April 23, 1998 11:37 AM To: Cc: Subject: What is an acquaintance, and what is identity?

[stuff deleted]

Anyway, that's not my point. My point is that this concept of social networking influenced John Guare's play "Six Degrees of Separation", which in turn influenced

something which (independently) eight people have alluded to when talking with me in the past 24 hours. What's that Dr. Strangelove / Klingon line about once is accident, twice is coincidence, three times is shame on you, four times is shame on me, and eight times is "you killed my father, prepare to die"?

Back to the point -- and I *do* have one: Dr. Wellman believes after extensive research that

| "The average person has 1500 acquaintances, with wealthier and older | types tending to exceed that level. Any two people on the planet can | be linked by five or fewer intermediaries."

Since I'm neither Rich (though I might be working for one this summer) nor Classic (Rohit says I still have 19 months in me before I am officially "Old" with a capital O), how am I to account for the fact that I know 4500 people AND that I can spoof knowing a heckuva lot more people than that? (Social engineering is sooooo evil, I just love it.)

(I reached the number 4500 by taking the number of people in my email aliases file -- 1500 -- and conservatively multiplying it by three. Note also that "acquaintance" is a one-way relation; someone can be acquainted with me and I have no idea who they are...)

Is this to say for every me on the planet there are two hermits who only talk to themselves? Is this the same thing as the statistic that the average American reads only one book a year, so through his and my voracious reading habits, Rohit and I deny 600 Americans the right to their one book for this year?

[more stuff deleted]


Been around the world and found that only stupid people are breeding, the cretins cloning and feeding, and I don't even own a TV. -- Harvey Danger, "Flagpole Sitta"