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A Small World After All?

The title: “A Small World After All?” makes me think of “Six degree of
separation”. This theory not only reveals the hidden fate and mystery
of the Internet, its further application will certainly be treated as
a hidden power of social movement for the Internet.

For “six degree of separation” theory, it can be easier explained that
it is a connection of interpersonal relations. Under this theory, to
get to know an unfamiliar friend among friends of you only needs six
people’s connection. In other words, no matter it is Dan Shiffman,
Clay Shirky, or you have long admired Nancy, Obama, Al; You , in
theory, only need six people’s relationship to get to know him/her!

This theory can be traced back to the 1960s, Mill Gülen design a chain
letter experiment. In 1967 Mill Gülen design a chain letter
experiment. Kashmir Gülen will set chain letters randomly sent to 160
individuals living in Omaha, Nebraska, he put a letter in the name of
a Boston stockbroker, and requires each recipient to bring this letter
to the considered to be close to that stockbroker friend, all the
participants to do the same after receiving the letter. Eventually,
all the letter arrived after five or six steps of the stockbroker. So
he verified their assumptions: any two strangers can establish contact
through a friend of a friend, and the interval between them is no more
than six.

In the fall of 2001, Watts (Duncan Watts), a professor of sociology at
Columbia University, set up a study group to begin on the Internet
experiment. Watts establish a “small world” experiment sites, the
endpoints(people) are distributed in 18 different countries (including
a writer in New York, a policeman in Australia and Paris, a librarian,
etc.), voluntary through this web site, e-mailed to relatives and
friends are most likely to achieve the task. As a result, a total of
384 volunteers’ mail arrived at the station of arrival, and e-mail in
six steps or less then passed to the target!  Push a bit to the
current world, “Six Degrees of Separation” theory will be an
exceptionally important meaning In the Internet age.

The author mentioned about the Arab Spring in 2009, we all know about
that the Internet played a important role, but why? One of the
important reasons, in my opinion, should be considered because of the
6 degree relationship of Internet. Because of that, people can trust
that information including story, pictures, events comes from
somewhere/ someone unknown but it is trusted. And then, in terms of
reliance, the information of Arab Spring was spreading widely and

It is good to know that Internet has a power to push social movement
besides browsing news, play on-line games and press ‘like’ button.
Here is a speech by Clay Shirky talked about “How Can Social Media
Make History?”(
you should also listen about that (or take Clay’s class?) after read
this article.

1 comment to A Small World After All?

  • rsm397

    Fang-Yu’s response raises a number of interesting points and I was especially curious about the reference to the term “Six Degrees of Separation.” Though I am unfamiliar with the work of Mill Gullen, the idea was first born from a mathematical paper titled “Contacts and Influences” written in the 1950s by Manfred Kochen and political scientist Ithiel de Sola Pool in Paris. Their work did not reach a public audience outside of the scientific community until it was finally published in 1978. Yet, it was first popularized by American Psychologist Stanley Milgram, who first encountered the idea during a brief stint at the University of Paris.

    Milgram designed a series of studies conducted in the sixties known as the Small Word Experiments, which were first published in Psychology Today in 1967. Using snail-mail to write chain letters, he collected the first experimental data supporting this theory.

    In addition to supporting the concept behind six-degrees of separation, he also noticed that during the experiment a number of people emerged as main “influencers” and, as he described, actually had more connections to diverse groups of people than most. These individuals often served as the main link between seemingly disparate social groups.

    The experiments that Dr. Duncan Watts conducted were a modern adaptation of this experimental design that replaced hand-written letters with e-mail. The truly amazing finding form his study is that the six-degrees of separation still exist, even amidst the plethora of media outlets and methods for digital communication. His book “Small Words: The Dynamics of Networks between Order and Randomness” outlines his theories in detail and examines the statistics behind his findings.

    Yet, I would like to introduce another finding from Duncan Watt’s most recent book “Everything is Obvious” where he attempts to quantify the mysteries behind social trends and how they can be influenced by social media.

    Though Clay Shirky proposes that social media can make history, when examining the concept of the “influencer” first developed by Stanley Milgram in the Small World Experiments, as we discussed earlier, in an online framework, the old statistics and conclusions no longer apply.

    Watts now holds a position as a head researcher at Yahoo, where studying social trends is essential to providing insight into their platform, both internally as well as for advertisers. His new book, “Everything is Obvious” has a very unusual thesis, which claims that in fact there is absolutely no way to mathematically predict or justify the logic behind the influence of social media on trends. He once explained that it is simply impossible to predict because when following the amount of influence a single user possesses on Facebook, for example, the measures reveal that it is in constant flux and even reliant on local or world news making headlines at the time.

    For example, if someone is deemed an “influencer” because what they post about on their FB page is often read by their followers, the number of people whose actions are actually effected by the influencer’s posts are completely random. A person who might rank as being very influential online, might not rank as influential the following week.

    Watts believes that this can be accounted for by outside factors, such as what the big news events are at the time. So if a person happens to be posting about a trip they took to the White House during the elections, more followers will read their online profile than if these posts were made during the summer.

    So it would seem that, fundamentally, Social Media does not directly influence history unless there is an outside context that makes what the users are share highly relevant. In the end, it seems accurate to conclude that the most influential social media users achieve that ranking because of their ability to address what the majority of people are interested in at the time — something that cannot be accurately predicted studying online media, but is instead dependent on external factors.