Big Data: By How Many People Are We Separated In This Planet?

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Big Data: By How Many People Are We Separated In This Planet?

“Everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation. Between us and everybody else on this planet.”

Have you heard about this quote before? This isn’t hot news as it is an old quote going back to 1929. However, Facebook released a new data science research study today that shows that we are only separated by 3.57 degrees!

In the data age, we are leaving data traces everywhere which are establishing pico-moments that companies are using to personalize real-time contextual offers for us. This is happening as we connect and interact with more people, places, and “things” around us. With the advent of social networking tools, we shifted from mass communication to mass listening and we’ll witness soon the “Contextual Communication (Of Everything)”. However, I’ll explore this term in a later post.

In the 1960’s psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted the Small World Experiment to test the six degrees of separation theory. Milgram’s Experiment began by sending 160 packages to randomly selected individuals in Omaha, Nebraska. The participants were instructed to deliver the package to a specific person in Boston. Each participant sent a package to a person they knew on a first-name basis who would have the best chance of completing the task. That person would then continue the chain by forwarding the package to someone who they believed could complete the task. The experiment was repeated in different cities and it concluded that there are about 5 or 6 exchanges between people. Thus, it proved the Six Degrees of Separation theory.

Besides, Milgram’s experiment was repeated in 2003 by Peter Dodds, Roby Muhamad, and Duncan Watts. They conducted an email experiment study by consolidating over 60,000+ email users and 24,163 message chains to find 18 target people in 13 different countries by forwarding messages to friends. The experiment’s results were similar to those of Milgram’s experiment in that it found most chains to consist of an average path length of 4.0.

Eight years ago, Microsoft proved the theory that states that everybody on this planet is separated by six other people. It developed this study by analyzing 30 billion electronic conversations in the obsolete MSN Messenger.

In the Data age, six degrees of separation is no longer valid according to Facebook. They just released a new study today by crunching Facebook’s friend graph data and showed that we are only separated by 3.57 degrees. You can even get your degree. Mine is 3.2:

It’s great to keep note that such network science techniques are not only limited to social networks but can be used in industries like Telecoms, Banking, Retail, and healthcare etc… With current data science technologies, companies can use graph analytics technologies in information diffusion and calculation of the shortest path to propagate their marketing messages and target relevant influencers in real-time.

What do you think about this study? How would Data Science change the way we communicate and navigate the world better?

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Photo: NASA.