The small world phenomenon (also known as the small world effect) is the hypothesis that everyone in the world can be reached through a short chain of social acquaintances. The concept gave rise to the famous phrase six degrees of separation after a 1967 small world experiment by psychologist Stanley Milgram which found that two random US citizens were connected by an average of six acquaintances. However, after more than thirty years its status as a description of heterogeneous social networks (such as the aforementioned “everyone in the world”) still remains an open question. Remarkably little research has been done in this area since the publication of the original paper.
The “Small World Research Project” at Columbia University is asking thousands of volunteers to reach about 20 “target” individuals by forwarding e-mail to the person they know who is most likely to know a selected target.
The “Small World Research Project” seeks not only to test Milgram’s theory in a world wired for instant e-mail communication, but also to study the barriers that divide society by investigating whether age, race, or education levels have any bearing on how quickly e-mail messages get through.
Duncan Watts, an assistant professor of sociology who’s leading the project, said his findings could also help researchers learn how to obstruct the spread of computer viruses and relieve congestion on computer networks.
“With the Web growing so big, we may need to find new ways to search big networks. We may need to find alternatives to search engines with centralized directories,” Watts said.
Remark: previosly this post was separate page on this blog.