Six Degrees Of Separation

Have you heard of the concept or theory of “Six Degrees of Separation” (SDS)? Those who know about the network effect might have heard about SDS or would grasp it quickly.

The six degrees of separation theory states that any inhabitant of the Earth could meet anyone in the world with a maximum of six or fewer mutual connections between them and another person. Be it through acquaintances, friends, or members of their family.

Yes, that’s correct. Any person on earth is just six or fewer connections away from you! That’s really a small world!

This interesting theory was initially suggested by Hungarian writer Frigyes Karinthy, in the year 1930, in a story called Chain-Links. According to the writer, the idea of the six degrees of separation theory is based on the fact that the number of people known grows exponentially with the number of relationships in the chain.

This concept is the foundation of the graph theory or modern day social networking sites.

If you really want to know how or why this theory works (or might work) watch this captivating video which explains the whole theory nicely!

I wanted to test this theory with a thought experiment, so I thought of some really famous people who are far far away from me. Warren Buffet, Michael Jackson, A R Rahman, Garry Kasparov and Andre Agassi.

After thinking of possible links, it suddenly occurred to me that my Finance professor had actually met Warren Buffet! I have seen his photo sitting next to Warren Buffet.

So that’s clearly sorted. Me –> My Prof –> Warren Buffet! Just 2 connections.

Now this immediately simplifies a lot of things! Warren Buffet has met so many US presidents or other celebrities over his long life spanning 9 decades. So did Michael Jackson! So it wouldn’t be difficult to establish Buffet to Michael Jackson link within 2-3 jumps. And the same is true about Andre Agassi.

I have also met the local MP (Member of Parliament) of my city who belongs to the ruling party. By virtue of that he has met Prime Minister Modi several times (in rallies or some state level events etc). So, Me –> MP of my city –> PM of India. 3 connections. And that again opens a whole lot of possibilities. PM has certainly met A R Rahman.

PM has also met GM Vishwanathan Anand, who in turn has met Garry Kasparov!

You see, within just 3-4 connections I managed to find some connect with these people across the world. So it seems, the SDS theory works!

Actually the difficult part would be to connect two totally common person placed across the world who are not famous and have different experiences or interests. For example, myself and some local grocery store owner in some African country, say Kenya.

Prima facie, this looks far disconnected. But very quickly we can establish some connect which would connect us in just few steps. The world now is really well connected, and getting more connected day by day.

You can try this theory among your network…

Here is one more video explaining the concept

Lastly, here is an interesting article from Harvard Business Review which explain the science behind SDS.

The Science Behind Six Degrees

This actually triggered an interesting question in my mind. Could there by a massive global SDS website depicting the network topology of all people in the world?

Will FaceBook or such social media websites already have it built secretly? Remember FaceBook has 2.5 billion users in the world and world’s population is approximately 7.8 billion. So even the most massive network (FB) has only 1/3rd of the world covered. 2/3rd are outside. And yet, all of them can somehow be connected using SDS theory! Isn’t that awesome?!

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