Friday, August 24, 2007

How Many Degrees?

How far are we from anyone else in the world? Stanley Milgram's theory of Six Degrees of Separation was devised 40 years ago, well before modern communications globalised business and business networks encouraged introductions worldwide.

In 2003 a team at Columbia University at New York ran a very similar experiment to Milgram's, involving over 60,000 people from 166 different countries using email to connect with one of eighteen random people. They still found that, in most cases, it took between five and seven connections to reach the 'target'.

So how do these findings impact on my beliefs that the number of links must have dropped?

Interestingly the key may be the medium used. Duncan Watts, the man behind the experiment told New Scientist, "Compared with offline interactions like work, school, family, and community, I don't see email as being a particularly compelling medium for generating social ties."

In a recent interview, Jeff Schick of IBM told me that email is now an outdated medium. Social networks clearly have a much greater potential to link people by providing visual representations of our networks and sharing them. Email is very one dimensional in comparison.

Does the 2003 experiment still stand up and have we moved no further since 1967? Or how many connections are we from anyone in the world?


  1. Good morning Andy;
    I love speaking about degrees of separation. In my opinion, the more connected you are with quality people, the less degrees of separation there are.
    For example, if I wanted to meet a Washington politician, I would start with our PAC (Political Action Committee) from NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners). They are well connected with politicians. In this instance, the degrees of separation are less than 6 - probably 3. But if I were not well connected, and did not have good strong relationships with people, the # of connections would be greater.
    I feel that the more people connect with each other and really get to know them, the number of degrees will decrease.
    Thank you again for the post.
    Sharan Tash
    The Professional Networker

  2. Hi Sharan

    Naturally, you are absolutely right to point out the influence the strength of your network will have on degrees of separation.

    As more and more people start using online tools like Facebook, will we see the quality of the 'average' network (if there is such a thing) rise?