Monday, 4 August 2008

6 (point 6) Degrees of Separation

But in extreme cases, the 29 steps.

From the Grauniad :
In a world of 6.6 billion people, it does seem hard to believe. The theory of six degrees of separation contends that, because we are all linked by chains of acquaintance, you are just six introductions away from any other person on the planet.

But yesterday researchers announced the theory was right - nearly. By studying billions of electronic messages, they worked out that any two strangers are, on average, distanced by precisely 6.6 degrees of separation. In other words, putting fractions to one side, you are linked by a string of seven or fewer acquaintances to Madonna, the Dalai Lama and the Queen.
Eric Horvitz and fellow researcher Jure Leskovec considered two people to be acquaintances if they had sent one another a message. They 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 hops, and that 78 per cent of the pairs could be connected in seven steps or fewer. But some were separated by as many as 29 steps.
Horvitz told the Post: 'To me, it was pretty shocking. What we're seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity. People have had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore.'

A 'degree of separation' is a measure of social distance between people. You are one degree away from everyone you know, two degrees away from everyone they know, and so on. The concept was popularised by John Guare's 1990 play, Six Degrees of Separation, which was turned into a film starring Will Smith, Stockard Channing, Donald Sutherland and Ian McKellen. One of the characters says: 'I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it extremely comforting that we're so close. I also find it like Chinese water torture, that we're so close because you have to find the right six people to make the right connection ... I am bound, you are bound, to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.'
Of course, if you are reading this, there's only one degree between us. And four three degrees between your children and my son.

Small world, innit?


Dave said...

surely it depends on how loosely you set the criterion for "association."
the original six degrees was about handshakes, but that's outdated now.

Bad hair days said...

Beiing a member of its often astounding how short the hops are. I once was even got a mail where Julia Roberts was also adressed.

Zoe Brain said...

I'm reminded of a song from the 30's:

"I danced with a man,
Who danced with a girl,
Who danced with the Prince of Wales"

Zoe Brain said...

My Google Fu has only located the first verse. Though it has located the author of the lyrics (Harold Scott), the music (Herbert Farjeon), the show it first appeared in ('Many Happy Returns' at the Duke of York's theatre) in 1936, and that the lyrics appear on p.243 of the "Herbert Farjeon Omnibus" held by the University of Bristol.

"I danced with a man
who danced with a girl
who danced with the Prince of Wales.

It was simply grand he said "topping band"
and she said "delightful sir."
Glory glory alleluia
I'm the luckiest of females
for I danced with a man
who danced with a girl
who danced with the Prince of Wales"

Oh, and I also found that the last line in Hungarian is "Én vagyok a legboldogabb nő, hiszen táncoltam egy férfivel, aki táncolt egy lánnyal, aki táncolt a walesi herceggel."

I'm not sure that's accurate though. "Herceggel" sounds too much like "Herzog", which is German/Austrian for "Duke" rather than "Prince". Erzherzog being Archduke of course, as everyone knows.

Aha! More Googling, and I've found that the Hungarian for "Prince" is "Fejedelem". So the translation appears wrong. "Herceg" is Duke.

A quick parse of the original Magyar shows "tankolt" means danced (with), "férfivel" is man in the dative, "lánnyal" is girl in the dative, etc.

But wait! Stop the Presses!
"Initially, all dukes were from the royal family, so that the title can be (like in some other countries) also translated as royal price, hereditary prince, crown prince."

As the prince of wales is a hereditary principality, Herceg is right after all.

Darn I'm good.

Marie-Yvonne said...

Enjoyed reading your blog Zoe ;)

Zimbel said...

"And four degrees between your children and my son."

That would be three degrees.

Zoe Brain said...

Thanks for the correction!