Why 6 degrees of separation is now 5 – and its impact in IT

The famous example of 6 degrees of separation was a theorem that we are all linked within 6 degrees of separation, a chain of relationships that binds us all within 6 steps. This theorem has been tested in several ways. The test on Facebook in fall of 2011 found that the 6 degrees of separation fell to 4.8 in their analysis. The famous 6 degrees of separation is now 5 within a standard deviation. Why has the digital world gotten smaller, and how does it impact those working in IT?

1. More connections per person

Why is the average number of connections per person rising?
* The internet has allowed for individuals to remain in contact with others that they would otherwise have trouble contacting. Someone who moved across the state or around the world would have dropped off the social network and become a former acquaintance. With internet connections and social networks, we can maintain contact regardless of actual location. This allows older friendships to remain active throughout life and broadens the social network to current and former friends kept current.
* Early analysis of social connections found that individuals were more likely to forward requests to those in the same profession. Social networking permits professional groups to expand beyond the workplace and into professional specialties, college alumni with the same degree and those who work for the same employer past and present.  Thus interconnectedness rises as well.
* Social media permits individuals to post updates and statuses for the entire world to see. Discussing the latest events in one’s life does not require calls to their closest 20 friends but one Tweet or profile update. The low effort involved in sharing information results in more people feeling informed and connected, even if only reading a few paragraphs of information.
* Social media has caused professional and personal profiles to merge. A wall of separation that naturally occurred when someone left work and work relationships behind dissolved when both personal and professional friends are connected to one person. The merging of personal and professional improves connectivity. The degree of separation drops when someone can reach across a social network and say “I am X’s neighbor, you’re his former coworker here, are you hiring?” is one degree of separation instead of two.

2. More nodes to connect individuals
Why are there more nodes and why are people connected to even more nodes than before?


* Social media has lowered the cost and effort of maintaining groups that share similar interests or goals.  A hobby shared by one neighbor is now a chat room with a thousand members who are familiar with each other’s interests and passions. New connections are formed in what would have previously been a private interest.
* A broad array of groups results in a large number of people belonging to many more groups. One for religious preferences, several for local social groupings, fandom for several bands, connections to family, membership as an alumni and in one’s career path result in far more connection points for each person.
* Status is often tied to the number of online friends of a specific person and the number of members as a group. This results in individuals leaving connections and links in place instead of pruning those one rarely converses or interacts with. This keeps first level networks and online group memberships larger than they would be otherwise.


How does this impact industrial engineers working in IT?

  • When you are looking for people to train as power users for a software application, target those users with the most connections on your corporate network. An alternative is to find internal user groups on your corporate network and target the group administrator or the most active person in that group for training as a subject matter expert.
  • When deciding how to reach out to groups of users for software requirements development or general surveys, save time and effort by identifying the largest groups of users of your software.
  • When testing specific software features or interfaces, find niche interest groups of those who identify themselves as using your tool in that way and then solicit them to assist with user testing.

1 Comment so far

  1. Social media is having such a major effect on our lives. I can how social media can be part of the trend that makes it now 5 instead of 6 degree.

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