Anderson Cooper. Stefanie Jankowski of Akron, OH. That guy I was sort of friends with in grade school but then he moved away and friended me like a decade later but then I saw he was in a group called "White Pride – WERE NOT RACIST!" and swiftly ended that electronic relationship. What do all of these people have in common? You are, on average, only 4.74 friends away from them on Facebook!
You've probably wondered about this in the past: just how many jumps would you have to take to get from your profile to any random (or not so random, in the case of Mr. Cooper) person on the most popular social-networking site in the world? The conventional wisdom was that, even before the internet, we were all only six degrees away from one another anyway. Unsurprisingly, the world wide web (ugh, sorry) made us even closer, to the number I mentioned above — and we're talking in the world, here. Restrict it to just users in the U.S. and the average shrinks to 4.37.
Of course, this is a pretty loose definition of the term "friend" — see the aforementioned case of White Power Bob — but that doesn't make the connections less meaningful, necessarily:
“We are close, in a sense, to people who don’t necessarily like us, sympathize with us or have anything in common with us,” Dr. Kleinberg said. “It’s the weak ties that make the world small.”
Still, he noted that such ties were hardly meaningless. “We should ask what things spread well on weak ties,” he said. “News spreads well on weak ties. Those people I met on vacation, if they send me some cool news, I might send that to my friends. If they send me something about a protest movement, I might not.”
So there we go! Each one of us is this close to reaching millions and millions of people across the globe at any moment. Just probably only when it comes to a monkey riding on the back of a pig and not, say, a grassroots movement for social change. You can't have everything, I guess.