Anatomy of Facebook: The World is Getting Smaller! [Study]

Last week, Facebook released two studies made in collaboration with researchers at the Università degli Studi di Milano. In the first study, they measured how many friends people have, and found that this distribution differs significantly from previous studies. And in the second, they measured the number of connections between people.

Both of the studies show that Facebook, as a social network is both global and local – it connects people who are far apart, but also enables connections locally. And with the help of Facebook, a large section of people are getting connected thus creating a sense of the world being smaller.

Distribution of number of friends:

degree of distribution

As shown in the graph, only 10% of people have less than 10 friends, 20% have less than 25 friends, while 50% (the median) have over 100 friends. Meanwhile, because the distribution is highly skewed, the average friend count is 190. An important finding in this study, however, is that the distribution is not nearly as skewed as earlier studies of social networks have suggested.

Six Degrees of Separation:

The idea of ‘six degrees of separation’ — that any two people are on average separated by no more than six intermediate connections — was first proposed in 1929 in a short story by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, and made popular by the John Guare play and movie, Six Degrees of Separation.

According to the recent study done by Facebook, it was discovered that six degrees actually overstates the number of links between users. Now it is rather 4 or 5 degrees of seperation. Here is what the study says:

  • While 99.6% of all pairs of users are connected by paths with 5 degrees.
  • 92% are connected by only four degrees.

And as Facebook has grown over the years, representing an ever larger fraction of the global population, it has become steadily more connected. The average distance in 2008 was 5.28 hops, while now it is 4.74.

Your friends and you

In the study, it was found that 84% of all connections are between users in the same country. But this isn’t the only dimension along which people tend to cluster. We also find that people tend to have a similar, typically smaller, number of friends as their neighbours, and tend to be about the same age.

For example, a person located in a country may have a lot of Facebook friends there, but again he would have a considerable number of connections from his home town, that could be his school or college friends, who would roughly be of same age.

More details on the study can be found on:

> The Anatomy of the Facebook Social Graph, J. Ugander, B. Karrer, L. Backstrom, C. Marlow.

> Four Degrees of Separation, L. Backstrom, P. Boldi, M. Rosa, J. Ugander, S. Vigna


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