Eric Horvitz, a Microsoft researcher conducted a study (pdf) with colleague Jure Leskovec designed to determine if the “small world theory”, which states that any person world wide is separated from any other person world wide by only 6.2 degrees of separation, did indeed hold any water.
What they found, using statistics from a Microsoft database covering all of the Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging network in June 2006 — which is roughly half of the world’s IM traffic at the time — is that the average chain steps needed to connect two people would be 6.6…most of the time:
The researchers 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 steps and that 78 percent of the pairs could be connected in seven hops or less.
Some pairs, however, were separated by as many as 29 hops.
So, if you don’t mind…could someone please ring up Bill Gates for me? Or Stephen Hawking? Hello? Anyone?