Now it's four degrees of separation

By DANIEL BATES Time of article published Nov 23, 2011

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New York - It used to be said that everybody on the planet was separated by only six other people.

This so-called “six degrees of separation” meant we were all only a few hops away - by means of an introduction - from anyone else.

But the gap has shrunk, thanks to the rise of social networking sites such as Facebook.

Research shows that the average person now needs just 4.74 connecting steps to get to anybody in the world, be it a Hollywood star or a peasant living in rural China.

This means there are just four people - or “degrees” - standing between you and the rest of mankind.

Facebook worked with researchers at the Universityˆ degli Studi di Milano in Italy and looked at all 721million of its active users, equivalent to 10 percent of the world’s population, with a total of 69 billion mutual friendships.

They found that as Facebook has grown, the average distance between users has shrunk to 4.74 hops. In some countries it is even lower.

The figure stood at 5.28 in 2008 but has gone down due to the relentless rise in social networking and sharing websites.

The researchers said: “When considering even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rainforest, a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend.”

In the study, “hops” are the number of jumps from person to person needed to reach your target friend and “degrees” are the number of people separating the two parties.

This means that six degrees of separation would actually be seven hops. Four degrees makes five hops.

Previous studies have shed light on the phenomenon, most notably in the 1960s by social psychologist Stanley Milgram who was among the first to examine the “social capital” of our extended networks in his famous “small world” experiment.

He discovered that typically there are an average of 5.2 people separating you from anyone else in the world.

When rounded up, this spawned the term “six degrees of separation”, even though he did not actually use it.

The idea resurfaced in 1994 with the film called Six Degrees Of Separation based on the John Guare play of the same name about the tangential relationships in all our lives.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has grown at a staggering rate. By 2008 it had 100 million users but last year it reached half a billion.

The current number of active users is more than 700 million. The company has stated that its aim is to have a billion people using the site. Even though the world may be more connected, researchers have questioned how many people might actually be proper friends with all those they “know” on the internet.

Many of the average user’s 190 Facebook friends are chance acquaintances or people they will never actually meet in person.

Recent research by Cornell University suggested that we only really have two people in our lives we would consider close enough to call a true friend. - Daily Mail

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