social-networking

Facebook: 6 degrees of separation? More like 4

Nov. 22, 2011 at 10:51 AM ET

Rosa Golijan/msnbc.com /

Ever play "The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" on a dull day? It's a game in which you trace someone's movie roles in an attempt to connect him or her to actor Kevin Bacon in just six steps. The whole idea is based on the belief that any two individuals in the world are separated by no more than six degrees.

Facebook /
When the numbers were crunched in 2008, it was determined that 5.28 hops were necessary to connect pairs of Facebook users on average. In 2011, that number has dropped to 4.74.

Facebook's shaking up that ol' claim a bit, by suggesting that there's an average of 4.74 "hops" — or lines — connecting every person to every other person. That actually means 3.74 "degrees of separation," because there are two hops between you and a friend of a friend, but your common friend represents just one degree of separation.

Oh, yes. It's a very small world after all.

The statistic was discovered when the folks at Facebook collaborated with researchers at the Università degli Studi di Milano and analyzed the social network's 721 million active users (who account for more than 10 percent of the global population). 

Using "state-of-the-art algorithms" developed at the university's Laboratory for Web Algorithmics, it was possible to approximate the "number of hops between all pairs of individuals on Facebook."

All that number crunching revealed that "99.6% of all pairs of users are connected by paths with 5 degrees (6 hops)" and "92% are connected by only four degrees (5 hops)." On average, only 4.74 hops were necessary to connect people.

Yes, this statistic means that you theoretically have a friend who is buddies with someone who knows a guy or gal who is friends with Ryan Gosling.

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