It’s a Small World After All…

Now that I’ve gotten that song stuck in your head for eternity…

We’ve been talking about network theory for the past few weeks in class, so when I saw this article by Brian Carlson on the Public Diplomacy Council’s website I was absolutely fascinated. Apparently there is no longer “six degrees of separation” if you are a user of Facebook! Based on an analysis of 721 million users with 69 billion friendship links, Facebook users are an average of only 4.74 degrees away from any other user. Kind of mind-blowing, no?

Will they have to rename it the 4.7 Degrees of Kevin Bacon?

So what does this all mean? Brian Carlson and Ali Fischer believe that this has implications for Public Diplomacy, and I am inclined to agree. I think back to the PD conference we attended at GW a couple weeks ago (“The Last Three Feet”), where Jean Manes presented about an exchange program for teenagers in Brazil. Though the program is small, the organizers thought strategically and decided to pick one student from each province to participate. Though the program is small, they assumed that each participant would have on average 600 Facebook friends. The hope is that if the exchange student has a positive experience and writes about it on Facebook, it will have a secondary positive effect on the user’s friends. Picking people from different areas of the country makes it less likely that the friend networks will overlap, thus ensuring maximum impact. If the program works as planned, a small exchange program can have a big effect due to amplification through Facebook!

Of course, the 4.74 degrees of separation only applies to Facebook users, bringing up the question of digital divide. According to this data, Facebook users are concentrated in North America, Europe, Latin America, and Australia/Oceania. What about people in Asia, Africa and the Middle East? Is it that they do not have access to the internet, or are they instead using alternative social networks? If they do, perhaps there are even less than 4.74 degrees of separation there. Is it really necessary that everyone joins Facebook? Questions abound!

P.S. Additional reading about social media in Brazil!

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5 thoughts on “It’s a Small World After All…

  1. This is really interesting! As for China, although facebook is blocked, many people still have an account and many would go through all the trouble to get on it occasionally, just to be connected with the rest of the world. For those who don’t, they use other alternative services to get to the same point.

    Now it’s easier than ever to find someone through the Internet, or get the words out to certain audiences. The 4.74 degrees of separation does sounds crazy at first, but it is exactly the world we live in.

    It’s really not a good time for a reclusive life. If you can’t find me, it is just you aren’t trying hard enough.

  2. So I could be separated from Robert Sheehan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Sheehan) by just 4.74 degrees? YES!!!

    Sorry, I’ll be serious now. This is exciting and, yes, there are a lot of possibilities for public diplomacy. That number would probably be even lower if Facebook wasn’t a closed platform. On another class, we talk about how these social networks don’t allow interoperability with each other. Imagine how much closer we would be if people who use Myspace, Twitter, regional versions, and whatever else could interact with each other.

  3. It is really interesting to think our world is getting “closer” but I wonder what is really means for public diplomacy. While the example of the Facebook friends and Brazil, is a good idea, I wonder if there people are over stating the role of Facebook’s impact on public diplomacy. Averaging each user has 600 friends, is quite an estimation, this is jumping to the conclusion that these are very active user and monitor each status update from that friend. I also wonder about how much of an impact Facebook updates can have on changing perceptions about America. I do like this approach because it is low cost and already tapping into power of networks. I know for sue that digital divide has an affect on the use of Facebook in Africa, some countries still have very low Internet penetration rates, and are still working on providing electricity. I think as the technology develops Facebook will become more popular.

  4. Like Ginny, I also have to question the efficacy of Facebook as a means for thorough amplification. I think that the capacity is in place for Facebook to be used as a vehicle to echo sentiments, but none of us are drones, and we’re not sharing every piece of content that our friends post. Imagine how much “engagement fatigue” we would experience if that were the case. I think that the strategy of the Brazilian exchange program was well thought out, however, I think the strategy is laden with high hopes and expectations. I’d be interested to know the actual ROI of the exchange program.

    -DR

  5. I agree with you Ginny that we need to be skeptical about the power of Facebook. I don’t have 600 Facebook friends myself, and I pay more attention to some people’s posts than others’. Still I think that the amplification effect is real, if not as large as they claim it to be.

    In regards to the other part of your comment, I sometimes wonder if Facebook is here to stay, or whether a newer, better platform will rise up. Look at MySpace’s epic rise and fall! Also, perhaps Facebook or another social site will attempt to gain a following through a mobile phone platform in Africa and other places with low internet penetration rates. Web 3.0 perhaps?

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