Kevin Bacon

New study says Facebook users separated by 4.74 connections

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New research from Facebook and the University of Milan is throwing the title of the parlor game “Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon” into question.

The two announced Monday that the average number of acquaintances separating any two people on Facebook is now 4.74, changing the “six degrees of separation” phrase that has been cemented in demographic studies and pop culture since the first such study was published in 1967. The new study tracked connections between 721 million users of the social network.

“The world is even smaller than you thought,” @mixdevil66 tweeted.

Facebook announced the news in a post on the 800-million member social network. Soon thereafter a Facebook employee implied that the numbers proved the company is helping to bring the world closer. But the research drew immediate questions, including whether or not a friend is the same thing as a “friend” and if the study was skewed to discount the distance between connections in developing countries, where Internet access is not as prevalent.

“Not sure if I believe this...,” Emily Jones posted on Twitter.

And perhaps most the most important question is do the findings matter, and should anyone be surprised given advances in communication, Internet access, and connectivity?

“What matters is not the number of degrees, but the fact that the number is limited.So, no matter six or five, there is no difference,” one poster wrote in response to the Facebook announcement.

The news of the study was released at 8:04 p.m. Monday night, after a day in which Facebook ducked rumors about an initial public stock offering, introduced a new feature that put ads into the news feed that has already upset many users, and tried to recover from last week’s malware attack that had some users threatening to close their Facebook accounts.

So perhaps it wasn’t surprising that one of the first people to start promoting the story was Facebook Public Relations Executive Barry Schnitt.

“Is Facebook bringing the world closer? Is a world where we're all more connected a fundamentally better place? These are much better and more important questions. Will anyone ask them?” Schnitt asked in a status update that drew mostly positive responses, as well as several Kevin Bacon references.

Photo by sagindie