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Facebook Knocks "Six Degrees of Separation" Down a Few Notches (i-programmer.info) 89

mikejuk writes: Six degrees of separation is the, already well established, idea that any individual is connected to any other via six network nodes. New research has discovered that the average between Facebook users is just three and a half: "We know that people are more connected today than ever before. Over the past five years, the global Facebook community has more than doubled in size. Today we're announcing that during that same time period, the degrees of separation between a typical pair of Facebook users has continued to decrease to 3.57 degrees, down from 3.74 degrees in 2011. This is a significant reflection of how closely connected the world has become." This may all be true and Facebook makes us better connected, but it leaves the question of the quality of the connections open. Are Facebook friends anything like real friends?
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Facebook Knocks "Six Degrees of Separation" Down a Few Notches

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  • Selection Bias (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ScottyLad ( 44798 ) on Sunday February 07, 2016 @07:30AM (#51456279)
    I know of very few people in my social circle who have a Facebook account. I'm sure people who use Facebook will know few people who don't.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This 3.5 average is about Facebook users only, not non-users.

    • I know of very few people in my social circle who have a Facebook account. I'm sure people who use Facebook will know few people who don't.

      And "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" applied only to actors and actresses, so that's fair enough. On the other hand, the six was not (as I understood it) supposed to be an average, but a maximum without exceptions, so Facebook is probably falling short in that regard.

      • by swb ( 14022 )

        I never understood how six could account for small, remote populations with little interaction with the outside world.

        From me to some guy living in a village in the Congo seems like more than six degrees of separation.

        • Re:Not an Average (Score:5, Informative)

          by Alomex ( 148003 ) on Sunday February 07, 2016 @08:58AM (#51456427) Homepage

          This adds only one degree of separation. The village shopkeeper has interactions with one or two highly connected merchants in the outside world. So by degree three your neighbourhood is already in the tens of thousands, even for "highly isolated" communities. By degree six or seven you are likely in the billions.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 07, 2016 @07:31AM (#51456281)

    Everybody on Facebook knows this. And because of this we've got way too many friends on Facebook, at least compared to the real work. That in turn means we seem more connected, making the degree of separation in the graph go down. But none of that is real; if you'd only count your actual friends on Facebook, the degree of separation would be much higher, because we'd have a lot less friends per person.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Ahem.

      I have a few Real friends, going back to High School, decades back.
      I have a few Internet email Friends, also going decades back, back to the USENET days. We have never met in person, but if we did, we would get along ducky, I'm sure.

      I know nobody on Facebook. Being a "Friend" on Facebook obscenes the very concept of being a "Friend", because the sole purpose of "Friendship" there is to make profit out of said "Friendship". And nothing more.
      I abhor the the Facebook concept of "Friendship".

      Tomorrow morni

  • friends (Score:4, Funny)

    by greenfruitsalad ( 2008354 ) on Sunday February 07, 2016 @07:32AM (#51456283)

    what are these "friends" they keep talking about?

    • Let me see some of the definitions by Merriam-Webster:
      • one attached to another by affection or esteem
      • acquaintance, or somebody that is not a close friend
      • one that is not hostile
      • a favored companion

      I am sure there are lots of people giving new definitions, like "Facebook Friend". To me, that "Facebook Friend" definition is setting a low bar for what friendship is. This "friend" is somebody you might not have shared anything with. He/she might have known you so many years in the past but time has passed and i

      • oh thanks. don't need those. i'll just continue sucking up to people with 5 digit slashdot ID and belittle those with one higher than mine, sonny.

    • A friend is someone to whom or from whom you have sent or received a friend request, which was accepted.

  • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Sunday February 07, 2016 @07:32AM (#51456285)

    "...Are Facebook friends anything like real friends?"

    When people literally have thousands of "friends" on Facebook, I'd say the answer is rather obvious.

    Doubly so when you consider celebrity status is partly derived from how big certain numbers are online, which tends to question the reality of the whole damn thing.

    • Yes, the quantity has gone up but the quality has gone down. In the past, we used to call those passing faces acquaintances at best, more often just the "guy I met on the bus".
    • by amiga3D ( 567632 )

      A person is lucky to have one "real" friend in their life. I have lots of acquaintances though.

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        I have very few friends. I have a whole lot of acquaintances. But, I also have a whole lot of people somewhere between the two.

        Hmm... A friend will help you move and buy the beer. A friend doesn't come bail you out - they're in there with you. A friend shows up hammered at two in the morning and you let them in, that's why they showed up. A friend is the person you call when your dog dies. They might even *also* be family. They've not only seen you naked, they've got pics and sent them to all of your acquai

  • LIMIT .ne. AVERAGE (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 07, 2016 @07:35AM (#51456289)

    Somebody claims that an AVERAGE of 3.5 compared to an UPPER LIMIT of 6.0 is "new research" ?

    How do I math ?

  • by koan ( 80826 ) on Sunday February 07, 2016 @07:48AM (#51456319)

    You're hurting the World.

  • "the friend of mankind is no friend of mine ... to honor all men is to honor none" - from molière's 'the misanthrope'.
    do whatever links facebook accounts have with one another, count as 'connections' between human beings?
    has societies that give importance to facebook links, lost all ability to distinguish and differentiate?
    to value such links on same level as real human connections, may not matter in a superficial empty life. but if life is worth living, and and there is value in emotional depth and in

  • On social media I see that a lot of people just send connection requests everywhere, but rarely follow up with actual conversation. (this particularly goes for job agents on linkedin - who will spam you with "would like to connect" queries without ever having heard of you, having anything like a job opportunity that might be right for you, or even asking for more information about you. Seems the only thing they're really after is having "more connections".

    So, is having more facebook "friends" really an

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      Maybe "connectedness" contributes to the partisanship.

      The most stable societies often seem to be the ones with the least diversity. It seems like the fewer the internal differences among the population, the fewer reasons to be partisan -- the other guy looks like you, speaks like you, prays the same, eats the same, lives the same.

      Connectedness makes people aware of differences -- the other guy looks different, talks different, prays different, eats different, lives different.

      Something about humans makes th

  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) <mojoNO@SPAMworld3.net> on Sunday February 07, 2016 @08:46AM (#51456413) Homepage

    The threshold for being associated with a terrorist and thus a target for enhanced data collection and investigation was revealed by Snowden to be 3. So now the average Facebook user is 3.5 degrees away from ISIS.

    I follow Snowden on Twitter, which makes me one degree away from an active investigation.

    • The threshold for being associated with a terrorist and thus a target for enhanced data collection and investigation was revealed by Snowden to be 3. So now the average Facebook user is 3.5 degrees away from ISIS.

      Less than that most likely, because ISIS is a group with several people.

  • >"Today we're announcing that during that same time period, the degrees of separation between a typical pair of Facebook users has continued to decrease to 3.57 degrees, down from 3.74 degrees in 2011"

    What is scary is how they are able to determine that and with such precision. There are many reasons I have never used Facebook.... this just continues to reinforce that.

    >"Are Facebook friends anything like real friends?"

    Um, no.

    • The key to NOT being such a short hop away from everyone on the planet is to not let them into your life in the first place. Yes, some people -- perhaps even most of them -- will just blindly accept friend requests unconditionally, giving them thousands of "friends" who are just names on a list.

      The only reason I touch Facebook at all, and then only with all of what flimsy privacy protection they offer enabled, is to easily keep contact with actual friends from that bizarre world called Real Life. With a han

    • Unless you are connected with some of your RL friends on FB.

      I for my part have only FB friends that I know in RL ... 95% of them doing Aikido, the rest family and real friends.

  • Imagine if the folks on Facebook bind together and decide to correct local injustices. For example, a restaurant owner is known to be rude and cruel to his employees. Imagine people on Facebook deciding that the restaurant would never be used by them, nor would any of their family members ever work there or even deliver supplies to that address. United social power can be a real scum squasher.
    • by vux984 ( 928602 )

      For example, a restaurant owner is known to be rude and cruel to his employees.

      And if the threshold of proving that, is "some guy said it on facebook" or "some 20 second clip posted to youtube" well, this sort of vigilantism will never miss its target and destroy a completely innocent person.

      United social power can be a real scum squasher.

      Yes, mobs are well known for their rational considered responses to situations. Wait...

    • United social power can be a real scum squasher.

      From what I've seen of Facebook, the extent of anyone's protest is to click like or share. Any more than that is too much effort.

  • Six degrees of separation is the, already well established, idea that any individual is connected to any other via six network nodes.

    How is it "well established"? As far as I can see "six degrees" was never meant to be taken as much of a concrete fact; it's more of an allegory for our counter-intuitively connected world. There are still plenty of remote or even completely uncontacted tribes in the world, and those are just the extreme examples. At best, six is a very rough average.

    PS My Bacon number is 3.

    • Six degrees of separation is the, already well established, idea that any individual is connected to any other via six network nodes.

      How is it "well established"? As far as I can see "six degrees" was never meant to be taken as much of a concrete fact; it's more of an allegory for our counter-intuitively connected world. There are still plenty of remote or even completely uncontacted tribes in the world, and those are just the extreme examples. At best, six is a very rough average.

      PS My Bacon number is 3.

      Suppose every person on the planet knows 50 people. This would include all your relatives, the people you meet at work, in your community, at the gym and so on.

      If each of those people know 50 people with no overlap, then 2 degrees out is 2500.

      Taking this to the 6th order, 50^6 is around 15 billion people.

      So although the number "6" seems counter-intuitively small, it's realistic. Even though there are tribes that *might* be 7 or 8 degrees out from you, they are in the tiny minority and don't affect the avera

      • I didn't mean to suggest it wasn't a realistic number, just that "any individual is connected to any other via six network nodes" is a big oversimplification.

      • Suppose every person on the planet knows 50 people.

        If each of those people know 50 people with no overlap

        And this is where the theory falls over. Because there is overlap, and unlike raw numbers, human relationships are not evenly distributed.

    • Six is not an average but an upper limit.

      Regarding the remote tribes: that is even more paradox. Suppose they never had a visitor or there is no living person that connects them to an other population, then the distance to random other people on the world is "undefined" or "infinite".

      • Six is not an average but an upper limit.

        How is it an upper limit? You can't check the connections between every pair of people on the planet. You can't even do that for 1% of 1% of the entire population. In all likelihood there are pairs of people who have a minimum of 7, 8 or 9 steps between them. 6 may be the mode, but it's highly unlikely to be an upper limit.

      • Six is not an average but an upper limit.

        Regarding the remote tribes: that is even more paradox. Suppose they never had a visitor or there is no living person that connects them to an other population, then the distance to random other people on the world is "undefined" or "infinite".

        On the other hand, perhaps, if no one knows anyone outside their tribe(s), never had an outside visitor, etc... then, from their perspective, no one else exists and they know everyone in the world and their numbers are probably 1 or 2.

  • First, off all the "study" is about facebook "distances". It does not change the distance of an Australian Aborigine versus an Kalahari Bushman or South American Indio in any way. Nor does it change mine to George W Bush or Bill Clinton.
    Secondly, social sites like FB, Linkedin, Xing have people that serve as hubs. Artificial hubs. There are plenty of people who maxed out the "maximum friends limit" just because they want to be friend with "everyone who cares to accept".
    E.g. on Xing there are "recruiters" th

    • They have contact lists as big as medium sized cities. It is fairly easy to be connected to random strangers via two "hubs" that have 10,000 "contacts" each.

      Also important to understand does this actually mean anything worthwhile?
      eg, One degree means I can go up and talk to that person because I know them. 2 degrees, I might be able to go an introduce myself depending on the situation, and 3 degrees and over are strangers.
      So anything over 2 is meaningless outside the mental exercise.

  • Most of my FaceBook friends are people with whom I went to HS 30 years ago and haven't seen since. Some of my FB friends are people I ones that I never spoke with, unless I count my HS reunion after 5 beers.
    Many of my LinkedIn associates are people I met while in career transition. So I had lunch with so and so, hence we reached out since we had some "common interests" Nice as this sounds, we are really worlds apart. However, the kicker is that there are many coworkers out there who turned down my Lin
  • Six degrees of separation is the, already well established, idea that any individual is connected to any other via six network nodes. New research has discovered that the average between Facebook users is just three and a half ...

    Facebook has set another bar even lower. </sarcasm>

  • While it is quite true that many people have friends lists in the hundreds, simply because they can, I have personally seen how Facebook can kind of act as a "network map" of social relationships. For instance, just starting with my friends from high school, I can see which friends of mine independently knew one another. I can also see who they know that I don't; and investigating them leads me to discover a whole new "circle" of mutual friends; people who's names and faces I knew, but who's social dealings

  • by Tom ( 822 )

    Probably massively distorted by stars who accept all friend requests and serve as hubs.

    Basically, when you make such a rule, you should have some kind of minimum standard for what qualifies as a "connection". If you bring it down to FB standards, which basically is "I once saw you from afar on the street", the distance is minimal. In real-world terms, if you actually would use "once saw you on the street", I'm fairly sure even for large cities the average would be something like 1.8

  • I am a nobody in Canada and know someone who knows someone who regularly dines with the Queen. I am willing to bet though, that I could dig up a bushman who is 8 or more degrees from me. Also I suspect that Facebook is a bit distorted in that many of the people on Facebook are social vs most people not being terribly social. So being quickly connected to the queen is no huge surprise as she is the center of a vast social network. Her footman's kid is then 5 away from me. Her footman's kid's neighbour is pro
  • There are some problems with their data and their assumptions:

    Problem 1:
    Facebook has 1.5 billion users. Of those, 1/3 are considered fake or duplicate accounts or have died. So 1 billion real/valid users. The world has 7 billion people. So Facebook has shown that of people who join facebook, the degree of separation is lowering to 3.57. What does this mean for those not on Facebook.

    Problem 2:
    A friend isn't a friend on Facebook. Guess what. Just because two people agree to "friend" each other, doesn't make t

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