There’s a group on Facebook called “Six Degrees of Separation”. It was started by writer Steve Jackson, as research for a novel he was writing. In his book he explored the idea that we are all connected through the web, and he made the group as a little experiment. He invited all his friends on November 28, 2007. Four days later, the group had 200 members. Less than two weeks later, the group hit 1 million, and it’s currently at 4.8 million.
Jackson wrote up a report about it this week, with graphs showing the growth (use arrow keys to scroll if you don’t see scrollbar). Here’s a quote form his report:
“It was never my intention to prove or disprove the Six Degrees theory — after all, I’m a writer not a scientist. I’m happy to accept that we’re all connected, and leave it up to people a lot cleverer than me to argue over the details.” (…)
“Have I managed to contact every single person on Facebook? I like to think so, but unfortunately I have no way of knowing that for sure. The fact is that more than four million of you took the time to join, and that is nothing short of a miracle. As progress marches on, the world gets smaller. That’s inevitable. Whether we’re separated by six degrees or ten degrees or one degree isn’t important. What is important is the idea that we are connected.”
I like so many things about this, I don’t even know where to start… First of all, I like networks and have read (and own, and recommend) both Six Degrees and Linked. Second, I like it when people set out to investigate things on their own, even though they may not be professionally trained as a scientist, so this (albeit uncontrolled) experiment is awesome. Third, I like the ideas of citizen science, and of using existing situations as models for something else, and the data Jackson collected on the growth of his group might actually be of use to someone academically. (See the network books mentioned above for some examples of similar situations.) Fourth, I like it when fiction is based on reality, so the fact that this whole project started as research for a book is quite possibly the coolest part of it.