Facebook downgrades Six Degrees of Separation to Four

November 22, 2011

You’re closer to just about anyone in the world than you think.

According to a new study conducted by Facebook and researchers at an Italian university, 92 percent Facebook’s users are connected by four degrees of separation – that is, a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend.

Four degrees is much fewer than the famous six degrees of separation theory, which dates back to 1929 story by a Hungarian author and a study in the 1960s (and which was popularized in the eponymous 1993 film starring Will Smith).

What’s more, according to the study which Facebook conducted with the Universita degli Studi di Milano, the average number of connections between people is shrinking as the now-800-million user social network grows: The average distance between Facebook users in 2008 was 5.25 “hops,” while it is now 4.74.

Facebook notes that its 4 degrees of separation are not directly comparable to the 1960s study that determined six degrees of separation. Facebook has much more complete information about the social network, allowing it to trace the most direct route between any two individuals, a benefit that the subjects in the earlier study did not have.

And interestingly, even though you’re only four degrees of connections away from anyone in the world on Facebook, you’re more provincial than you think. According to Facebook’s study, 84 percent of connections between users are in the same country.

So while you might be able to easily trace a connection to a pop star in Macao or a pretzel maker in Austria, you’re probably spending most of your time on Facebook chatting with a compatriot.

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