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Treebeard's Stumper
21 September 2001

Six Degrees of Connection

I've been thinking about how close we all are in the world today. It's not that the world is any smaller of course, but our personal web of connections is larger and easier than ever before. It's been said that any two people in the world are linked by just six or fewer people. I know someone (that's 1) who knows someone (now 2) who... was there, and I've got the email forwards to prove it. Is it possible? What assumptions would justify this claim? Can you design a practical experiment so we can test this claim with mail or email around the world? We could do it!

I'm sure telephones and email have reduced the number of personal links that connect us all around the world. As a result we're exposed more personally to disaster and terror around the world, "contributing to our ... numb response," as mathematician John Allen Paulos adds. I feel that.

For a fun example of our connectedness, play with the Oracle of Bacon which finds links between film actors and Kevin Bacon! A more esoteric example is the Erdös Number Project linking mathematicians to publications co-authored by the prolific Paul Erdös.

The Exploding Dictionary is about words instead of people. You get a definition with every word cross-linked to its own definition. It's a fun game to start with two wildly different words and find the shortest route from one to the other just by clicking through definitions.

Our web of connections begins close and
personal, and spreads across the world.


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Copyright © 2001 by Marc Kummel /