Study Confirms Folklore Legend

A major study by Microsoft supports "small world" theory.

ByLee Ferran via via logo

Aug. 4, 2008 — -- What are the odds you are connected to an Argentinean folk singer? Or a Turkish Web designer? They're probably better than you think.

According to a new study by Microsoft, not only are the odds pretty good, but you can probably be linked to anyone else by fewer than seven acquaintances.

The findings throw more science behind the old "small world" theory that all strangers are connected through people they know, popularized by a trivia game about the interconnectedness between the rest of the world and actor Kevin Bacon.

"What's the distance between you and any random person on the planet? That's the kind of result we were seeking," Microsoft researcher Eric Horvitz told "Good Morning America."

Horvitz and fellow Microsoft researcher Jure Leskovec looked at over 30 billion conversations over Microsoft Messenger in June 2006. The conversations represented about 180 million people around the world, according to a report by the Washington Post.

They found that on, average, any two random people were connected by 6.6 people.

"To me, it was pretty shocking," Horvitz told the Washington Post. "What we're seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity. People have had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore."

For years now, the "small world" theory found practicality in a trivia game called the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which competitors would attempt to connect the actor with other actors using as few links as possible.

The University of Virginia Computer Science department took the game to a higher level, creating a computer program called "The Oracle of Bacon" that automatically maps the links between Kevin Bacon and any other actor or actress through information at the Internet Movie Database.

For example, linking Clive Owen, star of "Inside Man" and "Shoot 'Em Up," is relatively easy using the program. Owen was in "The Follow" with Forest Whitaker, who was in "The Air I Breathe" with Bacon.

With Microsoft's new information, however, it seems that anyone, not just movie stars, is much closer to Kevin Bacon than previously believed.

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