Yahoo researchers are trying to update the 50-year-old experiment that established the idea that most people are connected by just five acquaintances. Where the old study asked subjects to forward letters, the new one simply connects people through Facebook. The more modern approach could actually demolish old assumptions.
Harvard social psychologist Stanley Milgram created the idea of six degrees of separation in the 1960s by sending out 300 letters, each of which asked the recipient to forward the letter along to an acquaintance most likely connected to the person named as the "target." Only 64 letters came back, potentially skewing the results, scientists told the San Jose Mercury News. The much lower communication costs on Facebook means more subjects can be reached and more long connection chains can be completed. So the sprawling social network might help prove the world is a larger place than we thought, even as it makes it smaller.