We’re more connected than we think.
You’ve probably heard before that everyone is connected to everyone else on the planet by six degrees of separation or fewer — you know somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows somebody, who knows everybody else.
In honor of what Facebook called Friend’s Week, a celebration of their 12th birthday, they did the math and figured out that, on average, Facebook users are even more connected than that. When you look at just the people on Facebook, six degrees of separation goes all the way down to 3.57 degrees. If you look at just people in the United States, that number is even lower — 3.46.
In 2011, researchers at Cornell, the Università degli Studi di Milano, and Facebook did the same calculations and came up with an average of 3.74 degrees. So, as Facebook’s user base grows, the degrees of separation logically decrease. “Now, with twice as many people using the site, we've grown more interconnected, thus shortening the distance between any two people in the world,” Facebook researchers says on their research blog page.
Since the number of Facebook users is so huge, it is an incredible task to precisely calculate the degrees of separation for every single user. Instead, researchers used statistical techniques to estimate the average number.
“Imagine a person with 100 friends. If each of his friends also has 100 friends, then the number of friends-of-friends will be 10,000. If each of those friends-of-friends also has 100 friends then the number of friends-of-friends-of-friends will be 1,000,000. Some of those friends may overlap, so we need to filter down to the unique connections. We're only two hops away and the number is already big. In reality this number grows even faster since most people on Facebook have more than 100 friends. We also need to do this computation 1.6 billion times; that is, for every person on Facebook.”
Curious about your own degrees of separation? You can see your average here. You’ll be able to tell whether you are more or less connected than Mark Zuckerberg, who revealed that his average is 3.17.
Of course, it’s important to remember that this number only represents your connectedness with people on Facebook and is thus skewed with respect to people in many countries where the Internet or Facebook are less accessible.
Still, it’s a very small world!