You’ve all heard the adage that there are only six degrees of separation between any two people in the world. There have been various plays on that small world phenomenon, such as “six degrees of Kevin Bacon”, where trivia buffs try to link members of the Hollywood film industry to Kevin Bacon films in six steps or less. Facebook, in conjunction with the Universita degli Studi di Milano, just issued a fascinating study that reveals empirically that the separation between people has in fact decreased as Facebook has grown.
The study analyzed 721 million active Facebook users, which is noted to be more than 10% of the global population, and the 69 billion “friends” of those users. There were two primary findings. First, the study found that the degrees of separation between social networking users is currently less than the commonly-cited six degrees:
“We found that six degrees actually overstates the number of links between typical pairs of users: While 99.6% of all pairs of users are connected by paths with 5 degrees (6 hops), 92% are connected by only four degrees (5 hops). And as Facebook has grown over the years, representing an even larger fraction of the global population, it has become steadily more connected. The average distance in 2008 was 5.28 hops, while now it is 4.74.”
The second primary finding in the study is that, ironically, the “world gets even smaller” when the analysis is limited to a single country, where the separation between social networking users is only 3 degrees. In fact, friends of a user tend to be of the same age and reside in the same country.
Employer Take Away: What should you as an employer take away from this development?
It is sort of like your HR people need to be psychologists and sociologists when it comes to human (employee) behavior. This latest empirical study shows very clearly that humans (employees) have a tremendous network of people with whom they communicate even if they have never met them. Perhaps more importantly, employees are spending a lot more of their time communicating with their “friends”. And they’re spending that time at work.
Given this, and to ensure compliance with the law, it is important for you to continue to maintain practices and policies that make sense in today’s world, and to recognize the good and the perils of employee relationships and interactions. In the meantime, enjoy your close network of family and friends this Thanksgiving weekend.