It used to be that we were all just six degrees of separation apart - ie you could 'connect' anyone to anyone else via finding a friend who knew someone else, who knew someone else, and so on.
But now research by Facebook has found that the gap between us all has shrunk - to as little as four people.
The average person needs just 4.74 ‘hops’ to get to anybody in the world, be it a Hollywood star or a peasant living in rural China.
The figure has gone down from 5.28 in 2008 and has been caused by the rise in social networking and sharing websites.
The startling figure shows how interconnected our world is becoming and how widespread use of the internet is collapsing physical distance on an unprecedented scale.
No longer are we six degrees of separation apart - Earth is much smaller now than it used to be.
Facebook worked with researchers at the Università degli Studi di Milano in Italy and looked at all 721 million of its active users, equivalent to 10 per cent of the world’s population and a total of 69 billion friendships.
In the largest study of its kind ever undertaken, they found that as Facebook has grown the average distance between users has shrunk to 4.74 hops, but in some places it is even less.
The average person needs just 4.74 'hops' to get to anybody in the world, be it a Hollywood star or a peasant living in the rural China. The figure has gone down from 5.28 in 2008 and has been caused by the rise in social networking and sharing websites.
When their analysis was limited to single countries the numbers were lower and in the U.S., Sweden or Italy it was closer to an even four.
The majority of the connections, some 84 per cent, were between users in the same country which meant that 16 per cent were with people abroad. Users tended to also be loosely connected to people with a similar number of friends and of the same age.
This even applied to older users - including those aged 60.
Facebook said: ‘In these works, we show how the Facebook social network is at once both global and local.
‘It connects people who are far apart, but also has the dense local structure we see in small communities.
‘As Facebook has grown over the years, representing an ever larger fraction of the global population, it has become even more connected.’
The researchers added: ‘When considering even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rainforest, a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend.’
Previous studies have shed some light on the phenomenon, most notably in the 1960s by social psychologist Stanley Milgram who was among the first to examine the ‘social capital’ of our extended networks in his famous ‘small world’ experiment.
He discovered that typically the average number of hops between people was six, which spawned the term ‘six degrees of separation’, even though he did not actually use it.
The idea resurfaced in 1994 with the film called ‘Six Degrees Of Separation’ based on the John Guare play of the same name about the tangential relationships in all our lives.
That year the term ‘six degrees of Kevin Bacon’ was born after the actor claimed that on his long and varied career he had worked with just about everyone in Hollywood.
Four U.S. colllege students decided to put it to the test and created the game which briefly became a cult phenomenon.
Since its launch in 2004 Facebook has grown at a staggering rate. By 2008 it has 100 million users but last year it reached half a billion.
The current number of active users is more than 700 million, although the company has stated that its aim is to have one billion people using the site.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg: The 'connections' between people on the site and other social networks has meant that the world is more tightly bound together - and 'connecting' one person to another is easier.
Researchers said: 'When considering even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rainforest, a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend'
But it is not just Facebook which has made the world more connected: other social networks have contributed to the trend such as MySpace and Google+.
Earlier versions like Friendster also helped make links across the world the likes of which have never been seen before.
Even though the world may be more connected, researchers have questioned how many people might actually be proper friends with all those they ‘know’ on the Internet.
Facebook’s research found that the average user may have 190 friends but many of these are chance acquaintances or people you will never actually meet in real life.
Recent research by Cornell University suggested that we only really have two people in our lives we would consider close enough to call a friend.
Original Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2064746/Facebook-shrinks-degrees-separation-just-FOUR.html#ixzz46Wo3QZJ2