Seven degrees away

There's been lots of UK media coverage over the weekend of a Microsoft research study that used traffic on Microsoft's Instant Messenger (IM) to investigate global communication (See articles in the Guardian, Telegraph, and BBC.)

The study captured anonymised data from June 2006 - specifically properties of 30 billion IM conversations (not messages, conversations!) among 240 million people. Of interest to the media is the global investigation of 'six degrees of separation' - the idea that everyone is just six steps away from anyone else. In fact, the researchers found that the average separation among IM users was 6.6, or seven in terms of whole people!

The original study was published in June 2007 - which perhaps says something about the degrees of separation of journalists from up to date research.

Even though those with (reported) ages in the 15-35 age group are strongly overrepresented, there are other findings that are interesting in terms age and gender.
For example, a series of hot and cold graphs plotted against age, show that younger users have more conversations made of up more quickly generated messages, but they are shorter than older users who tend to send more messages per conversation. In terms of gender, the researchers note that "cross-gender conversations are both more frequent and of longer duration than conversations with the same gender".

Leskovec, J., & Horvitz, E. (2007). Planetary-Scale Views on an Instant-Messaging Network.

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