Six Degrees of Hesitation – Yahoo Out To Prove Anyone Knows Everyone

Small World
It's A Small World After All!

Tonight I received a message from my friend Constantin. For those who don’t know him:

  • He’s Romanian
  • He lives in New York
  • He likes to hum the theme to Jurassic Park

Two out of those three bullets you could probably find just through Google Yahoo. But the last one? The last one is based on explicit knowledge of  who Constantin is. Having worked with him for 14 hours a day while at Converseon, you pick up on the traits others may not recognize. 

So I wasn’t surprised when he informed me that Duncan Watts, the supreme being of big data and Yahoo’s guru in the sandbox, had a new research project, called The Small World Experiment.

Quoting the site itself:

The Small World Experiment is designed to test the hypothesis that anyone in the world can get a message to anyone else in just “six degrees of separation” by passing it from friend to friend. Sociologists have tried to prove (or disprove) this claim for decades, but it is still unresolved.

Now, using Facebook we finally have the technology to put the hypothesis to a proper scientific test. By participating in this experiment, you’ll not only get to see how you’re connected to people you might never otherwise encounter, you will also be helping to advance the science of social networks.

Helping advance the science of social networks is a big task, and no offense to any large search portal listed in this post, but that was what I thought Google was doing with G+.

So how does it work? 

It starts with Yahoo having recruited “Target Persons” from around the world. In the instance I participated, my target was based in Israel. He was someone not in my network and was unfamiliar to me.

Once I was exposed to the Target, I was asked to try and reach him by using my Facebook network to identify the one single person I assumed would be most likely to be connected to him. Identifying my friend, I asked him to pass a message to him. From there the process continues until the person is reached. Possibly in Six Degrees or less, possibly more…I am curious to see how many hops it takes to get to the Target.

Implications of this project on a macrolevel are pretty powerful. We’ve asked ourselves countless times rhetorically, when are we done over-sharing?  Interestingly it’s less offensive to receive recommendations from Twitter, Facebook and G+ on who to add to your network verses physically reaching out to random strangers to connect to them with zero context as to why. For instance – I might connect with Constantin and mention my background (e.g.Hi I’m Romanian too!) or that I live in a close vicinity (e.g. I live in Manhattan!) but when I message him as a stranger with “I heard you like Dinosaur movies…” well I don’t know about you but that would startle me.

When I was asked to help reach a Target I didn’t think twice about clicking through. I was inherently curious as to what I’d see. The fact that so much of my Targets PII was in front of me was bothersome. I’m being asked to identify someone who could possibly help me reach a complete stranger. What if I was wrong? What if I offend the person? What if I asked for help based on assumed like interests with the Target that are untrue?

The world IS getting smaller, no doubt. The question is, does a smaller world require sacrificing privacy to live in it?

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