Redoing Milgram’s degrees of separation experiment with Facebook

Stanley Milgram is best known for one particular experiment but another of his experiments is being replicated with new technology:

Yahoo and Facebook are setting out to test the hypothesis that anyone in the world is connected to anyone else in just six steps.

The experiment aims to prove or disprove that which was first suggested by Harvard sociologist Stanley Milgram when he asked 300 people to get a message to a Boston stockbroker using their personal networks.

Only about 60 of the messages reached their target, with the average number of steps in the chain being six – coining the phrase ‘six degrees of separation’.

Yahoo’s research department is aiming to replicate that experiment, this time using Facebook, which has 750 million users worldwide.

If you go to the official page, you can then choose to participate. But before you can, you have to agree to a “Terms of Use” and four other statements. This is essentially the “informed consent form” for the experiment.

Also, the “Terms of Use” provides this description of the project:

The purpose of this study is to test a long-standing theory in sociology that everyone on Earth is connected together in a giant social network. In this experiment, participants called “Senders” forward messages to their Facebook friends in an attempt to reach a given “Target” individual, about whom they are given certain identifying information, in the shortest number of steps possible.

I can’t say that I have heard this specific sociological theory but I would be interested to see the results.

If you want to read a short (several paragraph) description of Milgram’s initial experiment, find it here.

Since corporations like Yahoo, Google, Facebook, and others are sitting on treasure troves of data, can we expect to see more experiments like this in the future?

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