I’m not sure if anyone can see this or if you need a subscription. But, this being the Information Age, you can read the abstract of the paper itself and download a PDF of the paper. It discusses work done at Microsoft examining the connections used by its IM customers. The researchers examined the data from one month. this worked out to “255 billion messages sent in the course of 30 billion conversations among 240 million people during June 2006.” A lot of data.
After crunching the data they found some interesting numbers regarding this network – the average number of connections between people on the network, its width, was 6.6. This is very similar to what others have reported, even though the approaches were quite different.
Interestingly, these other reports used much smaller groups of people. One, in the 1960s, used only 64 people. Another in 2003 used 61,000. All three, using very different methodologies arrived a similar numbers for the width of the human social network. This is not too surprising since human social networks adopt a scale-free configuration. The hallmark of a scale-free network is that the average number of links connecting any two nodes, or people, does not increase substantially as the size of the network increases. Here the scale increases almost 4 million-fold, yet the average width of the network is still about 6.
Information in a well connected social network can percolate very rapidly. Using Web 2.0 approaches can harness the power of the Internet (another scale-free network) to disburse the information into an even larger social network much more rapidly than by utilizing face-to-face approaches.