MSN Messenger ranks among the most-used software applications on the planet.
Do you ever use it to communicate, to connect?
If the answer to that question is yes, it might surprise you to learn that there's a reasonable chance that you've been used to conduct a significant scientific experiment, an experiment in which we have a stake.
It's an experiment that has delivered a fascinating finding: that the Six Degrees of Separation concept stands up to the closest scrutiny, that we are, in fact, all connected.
Do you remember the Six Degrees of Separation idea? It's a concept examined on our blog two or three posts back, a concept that contends that, because chains of acquaintance link everyone on Earth, you are a mere six introductions away from any other person on the planet.
In simple terms, for example, we, here in Saunderstown, know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows the Dalai Lama. Cool or what?
It's a nice idea, for sure. But it's fantasy, right?
Some drunken college students devised a neat game based around Kevin Bacon. Great, but that doesn't prove anything, does it?
Perhaps not, but this does. For this is proper research, scientific and everything, involving computers and boffins and complicated calculations and other such shenanigans.
This is the Six Degrees of Separation proven, or – to be 100% accurate – the Six-point-Six Degrees of Separation.
This is it, connection at its coolest.
To start at the start, word reached our studio here in Rhode Island that researchers at Microsoft have, for some time, been using data from MSN Messenger conversations to delve into connections and the science behind them. Their findings are, to us at least, reassuring, bearing out our long-held beliefs on this particular subject.
The Microsoft Team – and here we're assuming it to be quite a big team – studied records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people in various countries.
The database covered the full MSN instant-messaging network at a specific point in time, equivalent to around half the world's instant-messaging traffic.
It was, the researchers wrote, 'the first time a planetary-scale social network has been available'. Using research techniques that make our brains hurt, this talented team set about calculating the minimum chain lengths that it would take to connect the 180 million different pairs of users in their database.
The answer? The average length was 6.6 steps, with a remarkable 78% of the pairs able to be connected in seven steps or fewer. Small world or what?
In their long and complicated final report, the researchers concluded that 'Via the lens provided on the world by Messenger, we find that there are about seven degrees of separation among people'.
The lead investigator, Eric Horvitz, later told The Washington Post 'To me it was pretty shocking. What we're seeing suggests there may be a social connectivity constant for humanity. People have had this suspicion that we are really close. But we are showing on a very large scale that this idea goes beyond folklore'.
YOU SEE? WE'RE NOT MAKING THIS STUFF UP!!!!
Look, scientists – proper, important scientists – agree with us, with what we've been telling you all this time!
You see, we've known it for ages, but it's only in recent times that science and technology have begun to catch up, to back us up, to prove us right.
You know, it doesn't matter who you are or where you come from, what you do or what you look like, all the evidence – scientific or otherwise – is starting to come to the same conclusion.
That we are all joined, somehow, that all our lives are linked, be it in seven steps, six-point-six steps, six steps or fewer.
It's just like we've always said.