Browse Definitions:
Definition

six degrees of separation

Six degrees of separation is the theory that any person on the planet can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. The concept of six degrees of separation is often represented by a graph database, a type of NoSQL database that uses graph theory to store, map and query relationships.Real-world applications of the theory include power grid mapping and analysis, disease transmission mapping and analysis, computer circuitry design and search engine ranking.

The six degrees of separation theory was first proposed in 1929 by the Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy in a short story called "Chains." In the 1950s, Ithiel de Sola Pool (MIT) and Manfred Kochen (IBM) set out to prove the theory mathematically. Although they were able to phrase the question mathematically (given a set N of people, what is the probability that each member of N is connected to another member via k_1, k_2, k_3...k_n links?), after twenty years they were still unable to solve the problem to their satisfaction.

In 1967, American sociologist Stanley Milgram devised a new way to test the theory, which he called "the small-world problem." Milgram randomly selected people in the midwest to send packages to a stranger located in Massachusetts. The senders knew the recipient's name, occupation and general location. Each participant was instructed to send the package to a person he knew on a first-name basis who was most likely, out of all the participant's friends, to know the target personally. That person would do the same, and so on until the package was personally delivered to its target recipient. Although participants expected the chain to include at least a hundred intermediaries, it only took (on average) between five and seven intermediaries for each package to be delivered successfully.

Milgram's findings were published in Psychology Today and inspired the phrase "six degrees of separation." Playwright John Guare popularized the phrase when he chose it as the title for his 1990 play. Although Milgram's findings were discounted after it was discovered that he based his conclusion on a very small number of packages, six degrees of separation became an accepted notion in pop culture after Brett C. Tjaden published a computer game on the University of Virginia's Web site based on the small-world problem.

Tjaden used the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) to document connections between different actors. The game, which asked web site visitors to guess the number of connections between the actor Kevin Bacon and any other actor in the dataset, was called The Oracle of Bacon at Virginia. Time magazine selected it as one of the "Ten Best Web Sites of 1996."

In 2001, Duncan Watts, a professor at Columbia University, continued his earlier research into the phenomenon and recreated Milgram's experiment on the Internet. Watts used an email message as the "package" that needed to be delivered, and surprisingly, after reviewing the data collected by 48,000 senders and 19 targets (in 157 countries), Watts found that the average number of intermediaries was indeed six.

In 2008, Microsoft attempted to validate the experiment by analyzing the minimum chain length it would take to connect 180 billion different pairs of users in the Microsoft Messenger database. According to Microsoft's finding, the average chain length was 6.6 hops. In 2016, researchers at Facebook reported that the social networking site had reduced the chain length of its members to three and a half degrees of separation. Dutch mathematician Edsger Dijkstra is credited with developing the algorithm that made it possible for Facebook researchers and others to find the shortest path between two nodes in a graph database.

This was last updated in February 2017

Continue Reading About six degrees of separation

Join the conversation

6 comments

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

i never thought that the script's song has a deeper meaning. though the song is really quite irrelevant.
Cancel
on the basis of 360 degree.. i can move 6 degree and not be close to anyone.. unless you are meaning the world is 360 but that would be a circle and the world is spherical like oval.. i guess i really dont know for sure since iv never actually measured it my self degrees that is .. in that case is the world is also 70% water... its only obvious that somewhere in that 70 percentile is not near anyone. just my analogy at least in my mind.. and since perception is my reality i must be personally right.
Cancel
I think Facebook proves the theory
Cancel
Assume I know 100 people, and each of them knows 100 people.... So 100 to the sixth is one trillion. But of course there is overlap, but conclusion still seems reasonable. This took me five minutes.
Cancel
Facebook proved that.
Cancel
Please give source of information. No source = hearsay
Cancel

-ADS BY GOOGLE

File Extensions and File Formats

Powered by:

SearchCompliance

  • internal audit (IA)

    An internal audit (IA) is an organizational initiative to monitor and analyze its own business operations in order to determine ...

  • pure risk (absolute risk)

    Pure risk, also called absolute risk, is a category of threat that is beyond human control and has only one possible outcome if ...

  • risk assessment

    Risk assessment is the identification of hazards that could negatively impact an organization's ability to conduct business.

SearchSecurity

  • computer exploit

    A computer exploit, or exploit, is an attack on a computer system, especially one that takes advantage of a particular ...

  • cyberwarfare

    Cyberwarfare is computer- or network-based conflict involving politically motivated attacks by a nation-state on another ...

  • insider threat

    Insider threat is a generic term for a threat to an organization's security or data that comes from within.

SearchHealthIT

SearchDisasterRecovery

  • business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR)

    Business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) are closely related practices that describe an organization's preparation for ...

  • business continuity plan (BCP)

    A business continuity plan (BCP) is a document that consists of the critical information an organization needs to continue ...

  • call tree

    A call tree -- sometimes referred to as a phone tree -- is a telecommunications chain for notifying specific individuals of an ...

SearchStorage

SearchSolidStateStorage

  • 3D XPoint

    3D XPoint is memory storage technology jointly developed by Intel and Micron Technology Inc.

  • RRAM or ReRAM (resistive RAM)

    RRAM or ReRAM (resistive random access memory) is a form of nonvolatile storage that operates by changing the resistance of a ...

  • JEDEC

    JEDEC is a global industry group that develops open standards for microelectronics.

SearchCloudStorage

  • Google Cloud Storage

    Google Cloud Storage is an enterprise public cloud storage platform that can house large unstructured data sets.

  • RESTful API

    A RESTful application program interface breaks down a transaction to create a series of small modules, each of which addresses an...

  • cloud storage infrastructure

    Cloud storage infrastructure is the hardware and software framework that supports the computing requirements of a private or ...

Close