[FoRK] The Social Pulse of Human Connectivity On A Planetary Scale

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Wed Apr 22 02:41:59 PDT 2009


The Social Pulse of Human Connectivity On A Planetary Scale

Microsoft has studied a total of 30 billion instant messages sent by over 250
million people in June of 2006, and determined that we are in fact, all
linked by only 6.6 degrees of separation.

"We've been able to put our finger on the social pulse of human connectivity
- on a planetary scale - and we've confirmed that it's indeed a small world."
Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz told AFP on Monday. "Over the next few
decades, new kinds of computing applications, from smart networks to
automated translation systems, will help make the world even smaller, with
closer social connections and deeper understanding among people."

Due to the popularity of Microsoft Messenger, Horvitz and colleague Jure
Leskovec believe that the amount of chats that they studied amount to
approximately half of the instant message sent worldwide during that period.
The pair stress, of course, that they were not privy to the contents of the

"To me, it was pretty shocking. What we're seeing suggests there may be a
social connectivity constant for humanity," said Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft
researcher who conducted the study with colleague Jure Leskovec. "People have
had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very
large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore."

The origin of the six degrees of separation theory spawns from a study by
Stanley Milgram and Jeffrey Travers in 1969. They tasked 300 people in the US
state of Nebraska to send a letter to someone in Boston, through
acquaintances. Though most of the letters did not reach their intended
recipient, those letters that did arrive were found to arrive with an average
of 6.2 degrees of separation from the sender.

Though the study was not considered scientific, it went on to inspire a
multitude of children, including a play and film, and a charitable website,
launched by Kevin Bacon in 2007, sixdegrees.org. Through the website, “you
can support your favorite charities by donating or creating fundraising
badges — as well as check out the favorite causes of other people, including

But though this original study was less than scientific, the study by Horvitz
and Leskovec definitely has credibility. "We used a population sample that is
more than two million times larger than the group studied earlier and
confirmed the classic finding," Horvitz and Leskovec concluded.

Posted by Josh Hill.

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