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4.74 Degrees of Separation on Facebook 216

Posted by samzenpus
from the closer-than-you-think dept.
First time accepted submitter perryizgr8 writes "Facebook Data Team has taken all the friends data of everyone on Facebook and analyzed it, finding out the shortest distance between every two persons. They can now confidently say that the average degree of separation between any two humans is 4.74, not six as previously claimed by various entities."
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4.74 Degrees of Separation on Facebook

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  • Disagree (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kazymyr (190114) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:45PM (#38153462) Journal

    Mine is infinity since I don't have a facebook account.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Githaron (2462596)
      That is the first thing I thought. It is like saying of the set of people I personally know, there is at most one degree of separation between any two people.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Githaron (2462596)
        Wait, is the degree 0 or 1 between two people that know each other personally?
      • That is the first thing I thought. It is like saying of the set of people I personally know, there is at most one degree of separation between any two people.

        Yeah and who do you "know"? How about the girl in the grocery shop that helped you last week? How about the classmate from kindergarten that you have in a picture, but you don't remember his name? How about that famous writer that signed his book for you standing in line at the bookshop, even shaking your hand?

    • Re:Disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:55PM (#38153574)

      You also don't know anyone with a Facebook account, and no one you know knows anyone with a Facebook account, and so on? I'm not sure you understand what they are talking about, you read "Facebook" and just wanted to tell people you don't use it.

      • Cool (Score:5, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:15PM (#38153742)

        I stopped using facebook way before it was cool to stop using it.

      • You also don't know anyone with a Facebook account, and no one you know knows anyone with a Facebook account, and so on?

        The metric covers only Facebook, just as the Erdo"s metric covers only coauthorship of articles in scholarly journals and the Bacon metric covers only publicly exhibited feature films. I am meatspace friends with a lot of people who have Facebook accounts, yet because I don't have one myself, I am outside the metric's domain.

        you read "Facebook" and just wanted to tell people you don't use it.

        Facebook launched after I had already got a degree and lost access to my @*.edu. That's the excuse I've tended to give.

        • You also don't know anyone with a Facebook account, and no one you know knows anyone with a Facebook account, and so on?

          The metric covers only Facebook, just as the Erdo"s metric covers only coauthorship of articles in scholarly journals and the Bacon metric covers only publicly exhibited feature films.

          There should be a considerable bias in the estimate of an average degree of separation of 4.74. The people not on facebook are more loosely connected than those on facebook, so the average would increase. Also, the average used to be higher (in previous estimates on facebook), suggesting that the networking of existing people on facebook gets denser over time (you add/get to know friends of friends), while the overall number of people on facebook doesn't grow as fast anymore as it used to.

      • by Sqr(twg) (2126054)

        Everyone's "average degree of separation" is infinite, because there exist uncontacted indigenous tribes in Brazil.

        Perhaps facebook can partner with the OLPC foundation can fix this?

    • no it's not (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:59PM (#38153606)

      it is 4.74 + 1; think about it...

      • Re:no it's not (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Tomato42 (2416694) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:04PM (#38153648)
        4.75 + 1 in my book is very close to the "old, frowned up, value" of six...
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Zamphatta (1760346)
          Where are all the mods? Somebody needs to up this guy's score 'cause it's statistically insightful. After all, if it's 4.75 between Facebook friends, then to connect someone without a Facebook account, one would have to add another 1 to it. Which totally blows away the argument.
          • Re:no it's not (Score:5, Insightful)

            by jrumney (197329) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @08:11PM (#38154188) Homepage
            There are whole villages across Asia, Africa and South America that do not have an internet connection. Are you sure everyone on Earth knows someone with a facebook account?
        • Not exactly. (Score:5, Insightful)

          by raehl (609729) <raehl311@yFREEBSDahoo.com minus bsd> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @08:09PM (#38154160) Homepage

          The old value is that no person is more than 6 degrees of separation from ANY OTHER PERSON, period. So, randomly pick any person on the planet, and you should be able to get to that person with no more than 5 intervening people.

          An *AVERAGE* of 4.74 doesn't say anything about a 6-person maximum.

          • Re:Not exactly. (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @09:13PM (#38154600)

            Of course, that incredibly vague metric doesn't really explain what a degree of separation is.

            Is it just people you personally know? Or does it count:
            - people you've only met, even if you've forgotten them?
            - people you work with?
            - people you work in the same building as (regardless of whether you work for the same company)?
            - people you work in the same company as (regardless of whether you've ever met them)?
            - people you've done business with at some point (including the check-out clerk at a shop or their manager, whom you've never met)?
            - people you've passed on the street?
            - people you've ridden a bus with?
            - neighbors, whether you've ever talked to them or not? (And in how large of a radius?)

            So 6 degrees of ... whatever. You could say everyone shares only 1 degree since they've breathed the same atmosphere or you could massively increase the steps by making a "degree of separation" limited to parent-child genealogical links. It's all just lies, damn lies, and statistics anyway.

          • by Lorens (597774)
            An average of 4.74 for people connected to FaceBook. So? There are lots of people NOT connected to FaceBook. If anything this finding actually gives weight to the value 6 for everyone on the planet!
        • +5.75 Insightful

      • it is 4.74 + 1; think about it...

        That's exactly what the voice in my head said.

    • Re:Disagree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rapidreload (2476516) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:00PM (#38153626)

      Lemme guess, you don't have a TV either but want to tell the world regardless?

      • Lemme guess, you don't have a TV either but want to tell the world regardless?

        Actually, I'm the caveman without a TV. But I do have my neighbour's wifi!

      • by rizole (666389)
        I don't even have access to the internet.
    • Re:Disagree (Score:5, Interesting)

      by similar_name (1164087) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:38PM (#38153930)
      I think it would be interesting to see the average degrees of separation for each individual. One person might have an average of 9 degrees separation to everyone else while another individual might average 3. Cross that number with standard demographics data and look at any correlations. x being people not on Facebook you could still compare people with 3 + x degrees vs 9 + x degrees.
      • Re:Disagree (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @09:20PM (#38154622) Homepage

        I think it would be interesting to see the average degrees of separation for each individual. One person might have an average of 9 degrees separation to everyone else while another individual might average 3.

        Extremely unlikely. Remember that the number of people connected grow exponentially. Your friends are few. Friends of friends are many. Friends of friends of friends is insanely many. Even if you're a tightly knit bunch already after 1-2 steps you're bound to have many connected to the "main" network. Personally I know I have people in my friend list that have gone through every class list since primary school - that's how I'm their friend. If you have *one* of those people as friends, or even friend of friend you're extremely well "connected" even if you can count your Facebook friends on one hand.

        Likewise it's not likely to go as low as 3 because if you say 100 friends average then the most people you can reach in 4 connections is 100^4 = 100 million. The only reason I think you'd go as high as 9 would be if you're an isolated tribe deep in the Amazons with 3 degrees of separation to the few researchers that are there, that are 6 degrees from the rest of the world.

        You can do the math the other way around, to connect 7 billion people with six degrees of separation each degree of separation must expand the network 7 000 000 000^(1 / 6) = 44 times. Is that likely? Yes. That doesn't mean 44 friends though, it's more complicated than that. The first degree is my direct friends, that is simple. The second degree is friends of friends minus those I'm friends with directly but only counting each person once. So if five of my friends went to the same school and know the same person (that I don't), he's only counted once. So the formula is

        Unique persons brought into the network * 1 +
        Shared people brought into the netowork * 1/n where n are the people shared with +
        People already known to the network * 0 = 44.

        That doesn't seem that unreasonable, to my friends my work mates and family are new, to my work mates my friends and family are new and to my family my friends and work mates are new. Different school history, work history, different family, lived different places... each degree brings plenty new. Take for example my study mates, very many of them studied abroad. Each of them is like a new boom of contacts entirely new to the network.

    • ... because I have been told many times that I am the only person in the world who is not on facebook. Therefore you must be on facebook.
    • by syousef (465911)

      I've got maybe 200 Facebook "friends", but many I haven't said a word to in years other than to friend them. There are probably 5-10 people on my friend list I'd speak to more than once a year. Have fun with my nice personal revealing data won't you, Zuckerberg and co. Quality data you have there.

    • Mine is infinity since I don't have a facebook account.

      Surely you know someone with a facebook though. Just add 1 to the degrees of separation for you then.

    • It is for social wankers. 4.7 or 6? Okay, Kang Soo-kyung, political prisoner for the last 40 years in isolation in North Korea. Connect!

      Okay, Yenplu Onyango or rather that would have been her name is she lived out today but she like many kids die each day in Afrtica. Connect!

      It is just the modern version of "in a past life I was King of Sheba". Note how nobody ever was a nobody in a past life like they are in their current life.

      Or those ancestor tracking things. Yes, everyone in Europe is a descendant of on

    • by mwvdlee (775178)

      Judging by the number of "friends" some of my nieces and nephews have, the average degree of separation is right about 1.001.

  • Skewed Data? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sharkyfour (14327) * on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:46PM (#38153478) Homepage Journal

    Wouldn't this be skewed by all the people who befriend random strangers to increase the size of the Mafia's or farm friends?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aicrules (819392)
      Even better than that, it's skewed to those who are on facebook. So you add those two things and we're back to 6 degrees. Dumbass story
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Oh knock it off.

        Assuming Facebook relationships are used as a model for our casual relationships outside of Facebook... it probably stands up better than any previously attempted method. It's not like they're working with an overly selective sample group. And what's more, I'm not aware of any major and consistent social differences between people with and without facebook accounts. The tiny percentage of people that don't have facebook accounts specifically because they're socially phobic isn't likely
        • Re:Skewed Data? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Spad (470073) <slashdotNO@SPAMspad.co.uk> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:21PM (#38153798) Homepage

          However, given the perfectly valid observation that people on Facebook are much, much less selective about who they "friend" than in real life, the results will inevitably be skewed as a result.

          Additionally, Facebook has ~800 million accounts of which an unknown number are inactive, fake, duplicate or for some shitty new product, which is less than 12% of the global population.

          i.e. Whilst interesting data, it would be stupid to try and claim that it can be used to infer anything about peoples' general relationships outside of Facebook.

          • However, given the perfectly valid observation that people on Facebook are much, much less selective about who they "friend" than in real life, the results will inevitably be skewed as a result.

            I'm not sure that it isn't a reflection. Myself and my friends tend to be reclusive, we never accept friend invites from people we don't know (I don't even use my real name in FB, so I can do this with impunity). However some of my family are far more gregarious, and not only have more real friends but don't tend to

          • Re:Skewed Data? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by meza (414214) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @08:11PM (#38154180) Homepage

            Maybe I'm different from other Facebook users then, sure I have some people on my friends list that I only met once at a party and now don't even remember who they are. But in real life there are so many more people that I know casually and would say I'm "connected to" that I am not friends with on Facebook, such as: my hair dresser, my dentist, my boss, other colleagues, all the people I ever went to school with (of whom I've probably befriended less than 25% on Facebook) all the teachers I ever had, my neighbours, distant relatives, my siblings friends etc etc.

            So I think if we included everyone we know in real life the degree of separation would probably go down, not up.

          • Re:Skewed Data? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv,vadiv&neverbox,com> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @08:21PM (#38154238) Homepage

            Except that the idea of degrees of separation isn't 'friends', it's 'People who know each other'. No one ever said those people had to be 'friends'. No one's ever bothered to try to define exactly what that means, although at minimum you probably have to have exchanged words with them at some point, and have a way of contacting them.

            Granted, on Facebook, it's probably slightly too loose even with that requirement. Apparently, some people on Facebook go around friending anyone who shows up as a likely friend, regardless of whether or not they actually know the person. And sometimes the other person accepts that request. Clicking on someone's picture and sending a request is probably not actually 'knowing' someone.

            So assuming, on average, one of those bogus 'knowing people' per chain of '4.74' people, which caused the calculation to skip a number that really should be there (They aren't X's friend but they are the friend of the friend of X) ...it comes out to essentially what people have been saying all along.

            Which is weird, because as far as I know, 'six degrees' isn't based on any scientific information...it's from playing a game with Kevin Bacon. (Which is not about who 'knows' each other, it's about who's been in movies and TV shows with each other.)

            • by Kjella (173770)

              Except that the idea of degrees of separation isn't 'friends', it's 'People who know each other'. No one ever said those people had to be 'friends'. No one's ever bothered to try to define exactly what that means, although at minimum you probably have to have exchanged words with them at some point, and have a way of contacting them.

              I would say "have known" and "have had", like there are people I haven't spoken to in 10-20 years that I can't possibly say I know today but that surely should count. If you restrict it to only current maintained contacts the degree of separation would be a lot higher.

            • My thing with the 'data' is when you consider those Facebook users who friend *everyone* because that is just how they use the service. Case in point:

              I was listening to a local radio personality who was telling a story about how he un-friended someone and the huge fallout that happened because of it. At one point he lamented over the fact that since he had over 800 friends, and asked like who dosen't!, how was he supposed to know that person was someone that he actually worked with. (Not directly but the

        • by rsborg (111459)

          Assuming Facebook relationships are used as a model for our casual relationships outside of Facebook

          That is exactly what the GP is saying is invalid... specifically because "boring" or "privacy-obsessed" people are not "visible" on Facebook... you might even compare it to the whole "dark matter" theory that the matter we can measure and see is only 15% of what exists.

          Read up on selection bias [wikipedia.org] sometime.

        • Assuming Facebook relationships are used as a model for our casual relationships outside of Facebook...

          That's probably as valid as taking the opinions expressed on Slashdot as model for the opinion of the general population. In other words, not very.

        • The point is, when you add in the data for people who are off facebook, but have friends who are on facebook, you get 6.24 degrees of separation on the average for *everybody in the First world* and with the plethora of cybercafes in the third world, very likely *everybody with electricity on the planet*.

          While the number reported is skewed by people who never meet in meatspace and are only friends in cyberspace- it actually works out to be *nearly exactly the same as every previous study of the sort*.

          And TH

    • I'd say you're spot one on that score

  • by Kittenman (971447) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:48PM (#38153492)
    A good promo for Facebook ... gets it in the news without mentioning 'security' Dammit, I just did.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:48PM (#38153494)

    6 degrees of separation, not limited to any single medium

    Just under 5 for any two facebook'ees
    but to get to anyone not on facebook, you'd have to go one extra hop

    • Actually 7 if you are going from someone not on facebook, via the facebook network, to a second person also not on facebook.

      So assuming the traditional value of 6 in meatspace is correct, then the facebook network is actually less connected than the real world.
      • Actually 7 if you are going from someone not on facebook, via the facebook network, to a second person also not on facebook.

        So assuming the traditional value of 6 in meatspace is correct, then the facebook network is actually less connected than the real world.

        If both people are in meatspace there is no reason to ever hop out of meatspace and in to facespace, so back to 6.

    • by Baloroth (2370816)

      This would assume that Facebook is the most efficient separation path. I.e. there are paths of friends who aren't facebook friends (I have quite a few of those actually), who don't use Facebook, etc. So you cannot use this statistic for any person or people who are not on Facebook, nor can you draw any accurate conclusions about their degrees of separation.

    • by TexVex (669445) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @11:22PM (#38155190)
      I understood that six degrees was supposed to be the maximum, not the average.
  • I wanna know my link to Kevin Bacon. Do you think FB would tell all of us how we get back to him?

    • by sco08y (615665) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:00PM (#38153620)

      I wanna know my link to Kevin Bacon. Do you think FB would tell all of us how we get back to him?

      Facebook can't, because ever since the introduction of CCTV and police cruiser dashboard cams, they've had to rename it the Six Degrees of Lindsey Lohan.

  • by Zaphod The 42nd (1205578) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @06:57PM (#38153586)
    I'd be curious to know what the minimum number of connections necessary to link any two persons is, over the average.
    • by pipedwho (1174327)

      I'd be curious to know what the minimum number of connections necessary to link any two persons is, over the average.

      Probably infinity as there are most likely some small subgroups that don't contain a friend with an account that links outside that subgroup. That means that Facebook can't reliably measure a maximum connectivity estimate without saying 'infinity'. And even if they remove the infinity outliers, there would still be some higher number linkages simply due to a lack of active friending between people that do know each other, but don't want them to be 'friends'.

      In the real world, one of those people in the outl

    • by DavidTC (10147)

      That depends on what you mean by 'link'.

      As others here have pointed out, on Facebook, often people 'Friend' people they literally do not know at all. Facebook recommends them because they share a group of friends, but that does not actually mean they ever met.

      And thus, with people doing that sort of things, we end up with an average of 4.74.

      In meatspace, where we do not overhear friends of ours taking about friends of theirs that we have not met and inexplicably decide they are 'friends' or even 'acquain

  • Interesting (Score:4, Funny)

    by koan (80826) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:00PM (#38153628)

    So if you're on Facebook you're only 4.74 degrees from some maniacal jihadist, right-wing Christian extremist or a pedobear...

  • Bad Claim (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ibiwan (763664) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:01PM (#38153634) Journal
    1) As others have pointed out, not all humans are on Facebook. I'm sure the FB researchers would be hard-pressed to believe that, though.

    More importantly,
    2) The "six degrees" is supposed to be the MAXIMUM linkage between any two people -- not the average. Good job disproving something nobody ever claimed, guys!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15844230

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:19PM (#38153774) Journal

    If anyone wants to read a good analysis of the *original* six-degrees-of-separation study, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about it in The New Yorker [gladwell.com] about ten years ago. (You may wish to skip ahead to part 3.) The researchers -- and this was Stanley Milgram, of the infamous Milgram Experiment [wikipedia.org] involving people's willingness to torture other people -- gave people envelopes addressed to a specific person, and told them to write their names on the envelopes then give them to someone they thought might know the addressee. When all the envelopes came through, they analyzed both the number of hops and the route. (The average was somewhere between 5 and 6 hops, with some being higher. There is no assurance this is the shortest route, but their initial estimates were 100 hops, not five.) The most interesting part was that of the envelopes that reached their destination, more than half came through just three people. It's the discussion of those people, the ones who know people in various different close-knit communities, that matters: they're the connection points.

    • by DavidTC (10147)

      I hadn't read the research (In fact, I didn't realize there was any.), but I suspected something like that.

      In fact, I suspected the routing normally goes:
      Person A in community X
      X Community hub person
      Person in X who knows someone in community Y
      Person in Y who knows someone in community X
      Y community hub person
      Person B in community Y

      And that is five degrees of routing. With manual inefficiencies, you'd get a bit more.

      And sometimes, sometimes, the community hub in Y knows the community hub in X, essent

      • Exactly. Other things to consider: the number has been shrinking over time. Before 1492, the communication bandwidth between 1/8 of the world and the rest of it could be expressed in bits per century, and even now the degrees-of-separation between Australian aborigines and someone living in the slums of Buenos Aires could be more like 20 steps. (Not to mention the 60-some tribes living in Brazil that have never been contacted by Western civilization.)

        Plus, the 5-or-6 estimate that Milgram came up with is

  • It feels quite good to have to degrees of separation from the average victim of this spy/gossip ring.
  • by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland@ya ... m minus math_god> on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @07:21PM (#38153788) Homepage Journal

    average is less then the most.

  • What I'd like to know is: "are there islands", i.e. groups of people completely unrelated to other groups? And if there is no such island, what is the max distance between any two people?
  • I did an analysis of me, my Facebook friends, and my Facebook friends' Facebook friends who are Facebook friends with more than one of my Facebook friends.

    The result is a pretty graphic [blogspot.com].

  • If there was a security setting to expose your account to friends of friends of friends of friends, would that include everyone?

  • by ThePeices (635180) on Wednesday November 23, 2011 @08:04PM (#38154122)

    "They can now confidently say that the average degree of separation between any two humans is 4.74, not six as previously claimed by various entities."

    Wrong.

    They can confidently say that the average degree of separation between any two humans on facebook is 4.74.
    Not only that, but "various entities" never claimed that the value was six for facebook account holders, they claimed 6 degrees of separation between all people.
    The authors incorrectly assumed that every human has a facebook account.

  • NO.

    The problem is that people who used to be related in 2nd degree are in an environment (Facebook) where they are much *MUCH* more likely to then be linked in the 1st degree. And so on.

    In fact, FB itself puts pressure to narrow the degrees of separation of every active member.

    So, NO, this data mining mission means nothing about how people are really connected outside of FB.

  • google kevin bacon facebook

    1.Kevin Bacon * | Facebook

    Personal Information: Disclaimer: This page is not created by the "real"
    Kevin
    Bacon but is meant as a tribute to him and his work. | Facebook.
    www.facebook.com/pages/Kevin-Bacon-/59999919189 - Cached - Similar

    D'OH, looks like the facebook degrees of separation to the real Kevin
    Bacon is actually infinite.

    FBEngineer1 "Hey guys, I just ran Dijkstra on Kevin Bacon and it says
    the degree of separation
  • If the USA has ~60 Fusion centres and a few ~100 trained IT cyber staff per centre, how many long term top quality "10 separate identities" can they deploy?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/mar/17/us-spy-operation-social-networks [guardian.co.uk]
    http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9218177/Google_vs._Facebook_by_the_numbers [computerworld.com]
    Say 150 million as a round max US user count with some very basic web 2.0 usage.
    Add in airforce, NSA (and friends) via cyber efforts - 10 to x0 sites/bases, a few 100 staff/contractors
  • Take a jungle river in some remote part of the world and it would probably be at least 5 degrees just to get to the guy at the mouth of the river. Then another for a well connected trader(6). Then he deals with some river side guy(7) who treks deep into the jungle to a remote village that has a guy (8) who knows of an even more remote village(9) that otherwise runs from all outside contact.

    Think of those people videod last year firing arrows at the helicopter flying over their village. My guess is that th
  • by Per Wigren (5315) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @05:10AM (#38156334) Homepage
    How much is the result skewed because of celebrities with tens or hundreds of thousands of "friends"?
  • ...I made three days ago a submission with the correct number (3.74). /. couldn't care less. On average the degrees are 3.74, and this is why our paper is called "Four degrees of separation". 4.74 is the distance, which is one more than the degrees of separation. Unfortunately sociologists decided to count the "intermediaries" (so if we are friends, our degree of separation is zero), whereas computer scientists count "hops" (so if we are friends, our distance is one). This generated a lot of confusion. But

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