A research team at US software giant Microsoft, consisting of Eric Horvitz and Jure Leskovec, confirmed the six degrees of separation premise of Stanley Milgram and Jeffrey Travers, which stated that there are about six degrees of separation between any two strangers on the planet.
In 1969, Milgram and Travers, in a study, asked nearly 300 people in the US state of Nebraska to send a letter to someone in Boston through acquaintances. People were considered one degree apart from a friend, two degrees away from a friend’s friend and so on.
While most of the letters didn’t make it to the designated recipient, those that did arrived with an average of 6.2 degrees of separation from senders. The results were not considered scientifically reliable, but inspired a play, a film, a game, and a charitable sixdegrees.org website launched by actor Kevin Bacon in 2007.
The MIcrosoft research team studied 30 billion instant messages sent by 240 million people in June 2006 and determined that, on average, any two could be linked in 6.6 steps. The team was able to put its finger on the social pulse of human connectivity on a planetary scale. The Microsoft Messenger chats they studied amount to half of the instant messages sent worldwide in June two years ago. The Messenger data gave the team a unique opportunity to study distances in the social network
Horvitz says that 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. He further says that this is the first time a planetary-scale social network has been available to validate the well-known six degrees of separation theory.
The Microsoft research team used a population sample that is almost more than two million times larger than the group of 300 studied by Stanley Milgram and Jeffrey Travers in 1969 and confirmed their finding of six degrees of separation.