On Facebook, it’s not 6 degrees of separation but rather 4.74 degrees

One effect of globalization is that people are more aware of world events and are better connected to others. A new study using Facebook data suggests the average user is separated from any other user in the world by just 4.74 degrees:

On Facebook, however, the average user is only 4.74 degrees away from any other Facebooker…

That conclusion comes from a non-peer-reviewed study of 721 million active Facebook users, released by Facebook in collaboration with the UniversitĂ  degli Studi di Milano, the blog post says…

The Palo Alto, California, company says 99.6% of all Facebook users studied were separated by five degrees or less from any other Facebook user; 92% were separated by only four degrees…

“The average distance in 2008 was 5.28 hops, while now it is 4.74,” Facebook says.

While this is indeed an interesting finding (particularly since it is related to Stanley Milgram’s six degree studies decades ago), there are bigger questions at stake here. With people 4.74 connections away, how exactly does this impact a user’s life or positively influence their life? We know that information and culture passes through networks but how exactly does this work on Facebook? Can the life of a user in Siberia really affect the life of a college student in Arizona?

One issue here is that Facebook itself currently allow for limiting connectability between users. Sources like The Facebook Effect suggest that Mark Zuckerberg would really like a more open network where people could see each other’s information and actually interact with others beyond the “friends” structure. However, it doesn’t appear that most users would want this at this time – most Facebook friends are people users are already know and there are concerns about privacy. How does the company move people into accepting a more open network so that users can openly take advantage of those chains 4.74 people long?

Also, who tend to be the people in the networks that help connect people the most? College students? People who live in larger metropolitan areas? People with the most friends? People with the most diversity in their own friend lists?

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