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Is a small world getting even smaller?

In 1967 Stanley Milgram, an American social psychologist, conducted a series of experiments to study the nature of “small world” – a phenomenon produced by the overlap of personal social networks. For instance, he tried to find out the average path length for social networks of people in the US. He sent out 160 packages to randomly selected individuals in Kansas and asked them to deliver the package to a person living in Boston, Massachusetts. Since the senders didn’t know the package recipient personally, they were allowed to forward the package to somebody they knew on a first-name basis and who were likely to know the final recipient. The first package reached the recipient in Boston via only two people. However, on average the delivery chain consisted of 5 people. That’s how the theory of “6 degrees of separation” appeared. It suggests that anyone is 6 or fewer steps away from any other person in the world.

One possible path of a message in the “Small World” experiment by Stanley Milgram in 1967. Image credits: Ageev Andrew

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Lost in translation

This week I would like to share with you some thoughts about the behavior of people in online social networks inspired by the discussion in our COMM506 wiki. As we know, language serves as one of the factors that make people feel that they belong to one group. It is an important factor that fosters the development of social networks based on the homophily principle, networks that can be characterized by dense ties between its members.

When we register on any social networking site, as a first step we usually connect with our friends and relatives, i.e. members of our small network with dense ties. Eventually, our online network grows and we connect with people we work with, as well as meet in different situations (professional conference participants, suppliers, etc.). Taking into consideration the effects of globalization, we can suppose that these people can speak different languages and belong to different cultures. Sometimes we also start to follow well-known people that are of interest to us (scholars, celebrities, political figures, etc.), but in general we do not have a reciprocal relationship with them.

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