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MS Study Supports 6.6 Degrees of Connection

MS Study Supports 6.6 Degrees of Connection

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With the holidays around the corner, it brought to mind this study and two interviews I did for CTV’s Canada AM and 57News. The interviews center on how technology is bringing the world closer together. 

There is a MS Instant-Messenger study that suggests there are really Six.Six Degrees of connection between people -- much like the game surrounding “6 Degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon.” The study received wide interest after an article appeared in the Washington Post by Peter Whoriskey.

“With records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people from around the world, researchers have concluded that any two people on average are distanced by just 6.6 degrees of separation, meaning that they could be linked by a string of seven or fewer acquaintances…The database covered all of the Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging network in June 2006, or roughly half the world's instant-messaging traffic at that time, researchers said…For the purposes of their experiment, two people were considered to be acquaintances if they had sent one another a text message. The researchers looked at the minimum chain lengths it would take to connect 180 billion different pairs of users in the database. They found that the average length was 6.6 steps and that 78 percent of the pairs could be connected in seven hops or less.”

I have some added thoughts on this study, which didn’t get into the interviews so I’m sharing them with you…

Enjoy the holiday season!

Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., MVP , DFNPA, CNP

1. How surprised are you that they’ve been able to determine that there is 6.6 degrees of separation?

Not surprised since social technology use is so pervasive and growing at the grassroots level. This widespread usage allows for this research and for these findings that people are quite connected. Let me give you some examples:

- In the IT professional space, for CIPS, Canada’s Association of IT professionals, our members use social connection technology to actively build relationships, manage projects, share best practices, and this use exposes added relationships and connections amongst friends and relatives as well. In fact we just launched a new web site at to better leverage this connections value for members.

- In August, my mother celebrated her 88th birthday. She never touched a computer before but for her birthday gift and without external influences, she requested a laptop so she could practice social connections. I found this amazing!

- I had a recent discussion with a famous Canadian computing pioneer and he was struck and amazed at how his great grandson at 5 was so adept on a computer working seamlessly with it.

- Not too long ago, cell phones, e-mail, the internet were considered niche phenomena, so I ask, how many in the audience use these tools?

- With social networks such as Windows Live Messenger, LiveSpaces, Facebook, and MySpace, it is estimated that 50% are 35 or over and more than 70% over 18. So, it’s not just something that is happening with the younger group but older demographic as well—look at the coverage in the media and how the political campaign in the US used social media. And it is just going to get bigger due to heavy use amongst the youth. More than 80% of college-age Generation Y use these kinds of services. These social communities are much larger than 100 million which would rank them amongst the top countries in size. How many in the audience use at least one of these social tools or text message? We even have the Governor General, Michaelle Jean, using blogs, videos to connect with Canadians.

- Mass collaboration is occurring on a global scale and this is the present and future reality.

The internet provides a grassroots data warehouse of relationships, connection, and community that will yield tremendous insights into humanity and our common base. There are 400 million blogs worldwide and a new one coming up every second. Even in new economies such as China, there are more than 600 million cell phone users which allows social connection on an unprecedented scale through texting, video, internet sharing, and this now yields the world's greatest connected population. This is bigger than the next 3 countries combined. The Network Effect says the value derived is the square of the nodes (participants) and this is what is happening through social networks.

2. How is it that technology has been able to bring people together?

Technology involves social media which includes Instant Messaging, Blogs, Wikis, Videos, Pictures, and social platforms like Windows Live Messenger and Facebook … An example, cell phones are everywhere and they allow you to share pictures and videos and to use social media.

Social media is about people, places, process, platform, patterns, participation. There are 6.7 billion people and technology provides a flat world, mass collaboration, grassroots participation that knows no boundaries. We are moving towards 2 billion users of the Internet and social connections rapidly growing to involve hundreds of millions. The internet, mobile connections enables all of this and without limits. You see this with 3G cell phone networks, broadband high-speed access, global internet access, smart phones (iPhones); this is just the start of huge revolution. There is much written about this and this will only continue.

3. How accurate do you think the science was in the research of this study?

The science is a reasonable estimate for those who have access to this ubiquitous technology and this provides a picture of what is to come. The science will also improve as this Wikinomics or connection (Tapscott and mass collaboration) revolution continues through pervasive low-cost connectivity. Nicklaus Negroponte at MIT has his low-cost computing projects and there are so many others attempting to put connectivity in the hands of everyone. Good examples of low-cost computing are Mobile technologies with enhancements like you see in Windows Mobile, iPhone, Google Android, … this is the pervasive tool for the future for enabling relationships. There is an interesting platform call LiveMesh ( where you can share anything on any device all enabled through the Web!

4. With advances in wireless technologies, do you see the degrees diminishing?

You have PCs, and then mobile phones as connection platforms, and cloud computing (where services are provided all on the internet—LiveMesh is an example). And other examples like, Windows Live Messenger, Youtube, Facebook, SecondLife Virtual Worlds...or Club Penguin being brought by Disney (pre-teen virtual world), and more. Essentially you have seen this connectivity grow by leaps since the mid-90's and it will continue to expand. The degrees of separation will diminish as a result as we get more connected. We also have a generational revolution with Gen-Y and Gen-I who feel as comfortable reaching out and using technology as previous generations did using telephones. These new generations are also very much about collaboration, trusting their friends for information, personalization and entrepreneurship, and feel uninhibited in connecting with anyone—for example, in the workplace they are not intimidated by hierarchy. They typically have a richer experience outside the workplace than at the workplace so this is changing our work environments too. Another interesting phenomena is the online gaming environment or e-sports which is an 18B marketplace and bigger than the 9B for movies in NA. There's even online e-sports federations supplanting traditional sports in popularity such as in Korea. This movement is now building globally.

5. Why do you think it’s important for people to know that they are so closely tied together?

When we can identify with others through relationships, this builds common ground and commonality breeds collaboration and fellowship versus conflict, and wars. This is good for all. Here are some examples. CIPS is now working with Generation-Y serial entrepreneur Michael Furdyk. He co-founded which about using social media platforms to drive innovation and participation supporting social causes. Famed negotiator, Stan Christensen (of Arbor Advisors), relates an interesting story about the value of closeness or relationships. There’s a negotiation conducted between Ecuador and Peru over a dispute lasting more than 50 years. The negotiations were at an impasse until the two principals [a General and Politician] involved got into a room for about an hour to discuss everything but the negotiation. They found out they both had disabled children and they shared stories about the tremendous effort by their spouses to provide support and this led immediately to coming to an agreement. They wanted to work together since the common ground built trust. For this reason, it’s important for people to know how closely we are tied together.

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