6 Degrees of Separation is a documentary, which sets out to investigate the age-old myth that through a chain of friends any person can be connected to any other person in the world in 6 steps.
The documentary is loosely based on scientists investigating the theory, who explain that if every body has access to 100 friends, and each of those people have access to 100 friends you can see how each step along the way the total number of people in someone’s network is actually quiet broad. In this way networks collapse the seemingly unimaginable 7 billion people in the world, in on each other and making the connections between each of them closer then you’d have thought.
Crazy isn’t it, by this logic we’d all know someone, who knows someone, who’s friends with, a guy who was on a contiki tour with, the personal trainer of, the best friend of, someone who is friends with Angelina Jollie… So maybe my dream of meeting and marrying her one-day is closer than I’ve ever known.
Obviously there are some kinks in the system meaning that the 6 degrees rule won’t work for everyone. Largely because the theory requires each persons network to be varied and diverse, the more overlap in a network (for example a remote tribal town) the bigger the world is, because each person has the same kind of network.
With that said the Internet is a tool that is making it easier to diversify your personal network. People are no longer bound by geography and can create networks on interest. Things like forums and online communities allow us to extend our networks and create links where there is very little overlap between our network and that of our new friend.
In 2008 a study of Microsoft’s instant messenger found that there was 6.6 degrees of separation between people. However this study took a rather broad interpretation of who is in someone’s network, for the purpose of the study two people were considered to be acquaintances if they had each sent one another a single message. The case also found whilst the average was 6.6 degrees some people were separated by as many as 29. The study also found people were more likely to communicate with someone of a similar age, who spoke the same language and was in a similar location.
Since then the advent of social media has not only realized the theory of 6 Degrees of Separation, but it has actually enhanced it to around 4.7. Rob Petersen looked at 5 different studies into social medias impact on networks theory. A study of Facebook friends found the average number of acquaintances separating any two people on Facebook was 4.74.
Whilst a Twitter study came up with the following results
The average on twitter is similar to that of Facebook with 4.67 being the average distance between any two people. What is interesting is that nearly 44% of people are separated by 4 steps or less.
The increase in the power of networks on social media reinforces a number of things. One the greater the ease of communication the more effective networks are. In the documentary this is demonstrated by the analogy of two people at opposite ends of a football field needing to share a message. With no means to facilitate the message, the only way to do so would be a Chinese whispers type passing on of the message from one person to the next thousands of times. However if you strategically placed walkie-talkies around the ground the message could be passed on in just a few steps.
The second thing it reinforces is that the more we have in common the more closer we are going to be linked in a network. Whilst Social Media is a broad and widely used tool, it still has a lot of things in common. It requires access to the technology and is still skewed to a younger audience. For example nearly 50% of Australia’s Facebook users are still under 35.
The thing is, for network theory to be of use to marketers and creative content producers; it really doesn’t need to apply to everyone anyway. The fact is, what ever it is you are marketing or creating online, it has a target audience in mind. That target audience is more than likely going to share a lot in common with you, and the network theory of 6 (less than 5) Degrees of Separation means that you have access to them, your audience is out there. What are you waiting for?