Six-degrees of separation? Facebook says more like 4.74

Mark Zuckerberg describes how Facebook will connect people to media based on the strengths of their connections to other people. James Martin/CNET

James Martin/CNET
(CBS) - Shh. Do you hear that? That's the sound of Kevin Bacon fans around the world groaning at Facebook's new claim that there are no longer six-degrees of separation between us. Our connections have been reduced to 4.74.

A new study released by Facebook and researchers at the Universita degli Studi di Milano claim that the rise of modern computing allows us to properly measure our connections on a global scale. Wrap your head around the fact that they examined 721 million Facebook users, which is about 10 percent of the global population.

Compare those numbers to social psychologist Stanley Milgram's 1967 "small-world experiment," which inspired the six-degrees theory. Milgram's trial only included 296 people in the Boston area.

Using a "state-of-the-art algorithm," the researchers found that our long-time belief is an over estimation.

"We found that six degrees actually overstates the number of links between typical pairs of users: While 99.6 percent of all pairs of users are connected by paths with 5 degrees, 92 percent are connected by only four degrees," the Facebook data team said in a note.

Some of these findings are just common sense. For instance, as Facebook users grow, the degree of separation shrinks. And while the Internet makes it possible for us to be a few degrees apart, most of your Facebook friends are likely to be close in age and from the same country.

When researchers applied the same algorithm to a single country, like the U.S., Sweden or Italy, the separation dropped to three degrees.

These new findings are great, but it's going to put a damper on this season's holiday party games. "Four-point-seventy-four-degrees of Kevin Bacon" anyone?

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