Six clicks to reach anyone: experiment

A recent e-mail experiment suggests there’s truth to the theory that any two people in the world can be connected via “six degrees of separation.”

The Small World Project, as detailed in the current issue of the journal Science, was a large-scale, global test of the small world hypothesis.

New York’s Columbia University sociologists Peter Sheridan Dodds, Duncan Watts and their colleagues asked participants to forward e-mail messages to acquaintances who they thought might be “closer” to one of 18 “target” people in other parts of the world.

The researchers concluded that, on average, people can reach their targets in five to seven steps. Demographic data was also collected to find out what obstacles make it hard for messages to get to their targets, and to determine what tactics are used to reach them.

The study involved more than 60,000 participants who created about 24,000 message chains. However, fewer than 400 e-mails got to their targets.

Social psychologist Stanley Milgram, who in 1967 conducted a similar experiment with the U.S. population, came up with the original six degrees of separation theory.

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