Microsoft’s extensive research involved the study of over 30 billion instant messages, or nearly half of the world’s instant-messaging traffic, sent during June of 2006.
They discovered that the average chain length connecting any two random users on the software was 6.6, and 78% of all random pairs were connected in 7 hops, or fewer. So on average, any two strangers are distanced by exactly 6.6 degrees of separation.
The six degrees theory was first conceived as an experiment in 1967 by Stanley Milgram, who asked people to send a letter to someone with whom they had no connection by passing it among people they knew. He suggested that any two random people would be connected within a chain length of 6 people.
The idea created at least six degrees of buzz and sparked our imaginations. John Guare ran with it in his successful play “Six Degrees of Separation”, which became a movie in 1993.
However, Milgram’s study was discredited in 2006 when Judith Kleinfeld, a professor of psychology at Alaska Fairbanks University, revisited Milgram’s original research notes and found that 95% of the letters sent out never reached their target.
Until the Microsoft study, the six degree theory was considered an urban myth.
Eric Horvitz, a researcher on the Microsoft Messenger project, was shocked by the results. “What we’re seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity. 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.”
Does this mean that we’re all connected to Madonna through fewer than 7 people?