Formerly SpringBlog

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

6 Degrees of Separation. Fact or Fiction?

I have always been curious about this so called "Six Degrees of Separation". This is saying that everyone in the world can be connected through six people or less. Essentially, A knows B who knows C who knows D who knows E who knows F, so A and F are 6 people away from knowing each other. Seem reasonable? I think so, too.

Morville brought it up in Chapter 6 of the text Ambient Findability along with his discussion of any document on the Web being 19 clicks away from any other. He wrote about the discrepancies of this theory on pages 142-143, so I decided I wanted to look into the 6 degrees of separation and see what others are saying about this theory.

My first stop- Wikipedia. The first thing I found on Wikipedia was this image, which sums up the 6 degrees of separation pretty nicely.
In this image, each of the six people in the middle have multiple other friends who are all over the map. The six people are linked through "friend of a friend" connections and are six degrees from each other. Wikipedia continued to give me information, such as who started this whole theory. His name is Frigyes Karinthy, a Hungarian author, poet, playwright, journalist and translator. In 1929, Karinthy wrote a short article in which he proposed that the world was shrinking because our technology was increasing rapidly. A synonym for this theory is the small world phenomenon. There has also been a play and movie written about the six degrees of separation. The Wiki-article then talks about the different tests that have been performed on this theory, which led me to other articles on the internet.

Second stop- This is a website started by Kevin Bacon, who we all know from the running joke that every actor is connected to him by 6 or less connections. The "About" page of the website tells the reader what the purpose of the organization is. Basically, Kevin Bacon has sponsored this website which capitalizes on the fact that the world is small and one person can truly make a difference. Check it out if you have time.

Third and Final stop- The Guardian: a United Kingdom news site. David Smith, a technology correspondent for the magazine wrote an article in 2008 titled "Proof! Just six degrees of separation between us". This article discusses an experiment Microsoft performed in which they studied billions of instant messages and discovered that between 2 people, there are approximately 6.6 degrees of separation. The article then goes on to discuss several other experiments that have been posted and that are all discovering that with the social networking sites we have now, the degrees of separation are becoming smaller.

In the end, I found that the six degrees of separation are not only reasonable, but have been proven throughout the years. I think that as our technology becomes more advanced, our degrees of separation will continue to shrink because the information we have for finding other people will become greater. I think it will be interesting in the future to see where our media takes us and discover who else is just a few connections away from us.



  1. I have always been curious about this idea too, but I had never gotten around to researching it. I notice it a lot on campus though. The other day I was people watching in the Atrium and there were three girls eating luch together and I knew all three of them from completely different places. I had no idea that they knew each other. It was kind of wierd.

  2. I have also always been curious about this. I have heard the 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon but never knew that this could be, and is leaning to be, a fact. It is really an interesting concept to think about. Maybe one day there will be a social networking website that can connect everyone by 6 degrees. This also arises the question of "Is being 6 degrees away from someone a good thing?" I'm not sure if it is or isn't, but this concept is truly interesting. Glad you did the research on it and I'll check these websites out.

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  4. It is definitely an interesting concept and I agree that as we become more and more technologically advanced the degrees between us will continue to shrink.

    Just look at the past. It used to be that the only people you knew were the people that lived in your town or just passed through because people did not travel much. Now the average facebook user has 130 friends ( and they have met many more people than that.

    I think that everyone getting closer is a good thing. We know so much more than we did about other cultures even twenty years ago and if we know more people it's easier to find people you fit in with.

  5. I think I could go both ways on your question "Is being 6 degrees away from someone a good thing?", Cekinsey. I could see it being a good thing because we are able to connect and make the world smaller in a sense. We no longer have to think about a person in another part of the country with a question mark over their face because the reality is that we probably know someone in that region. It could be a bad thing though because our information is getting out there easier as well. No longer is this a separated world with a ton of privacy. Your information is out there whether you like it or not. So I don't think I have a direct answer about whether or not it is a good thing, but it definitely got me thinking beyond my original blog post.