Three degrees of separation

More proof that modern communications tech is making the world smaller all the time: A study by French cell carrier O2 found that the storied six degrees of separation have now shrunk to a mere three.

In the study, adult subjects in three age groups -- 18 to 25, 35 to 45, 55 and over -- were challenged to get in touch with randomly selected individuals around the globe, using just their personal connections. On average, they were able to do so in only three steps.

The term [six degrees of separation] was coined by US psychologist Stanley Milgram following a 1967 experiment. The six degrees theory was upheld in a 2006 Microsoft study of instant messenger conversations. However, the O2 study reveals that within a shared 'interest' network (i.e. hobbies, sport, music, religion, sexuality etc), the average person is connected by just three degrees.

[Researcher Jeff Rodrigues] finds that we are usually part of three main networks based on family, friendship and work. Outside of these we are, on average, part of five main shared 'interest' networks based on a range of personal interests from hobbies, sport, music and the neighbourhood we live in, to religion, sexuality and politics. It is the growth of these shared interest networks and the influence of technology on them that has led to the reduction in the number of degrees of separation.

TechCrunch's Don Reisinger offers a reality check:

It should be noted that the research is not the epitome of a real scientific study--O2 paid for it, after all. And anyone who has a LinkedIn account knows that it is still easy to find plenty of people who are more than three degrees away from you. But the study does underscore something we all know:more so than ever before, everyone is connected (even if it is only tangentially).

Maybe it is time to revisit Milgram's study in a more robust way. ...

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