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Six Degrees of Separation: Relationship Mapping Answers the Impossible

by Zach

The History of "Six Degrees"

“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” a popular game in the 1990s, has become almost an accepted fact in popular culture. This theory sets up the idea that everyone is six or fewer steps away from Kevin Bacon by way of introduction through the people you know and the people they know. Quite simply, any two people on Earth could be six or fewer acquaintance links apart. So, in theory, I know the President of the United States, you know the mayor of New York, and your friend knows the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.

Preposterous is the first word that comes to mind. I don’t actually know the President of the United States. However, some interesting theories have backed up the interconnectedness of our global society. The recent theory we throw around that revolves around Kevin Bacon is a product of popular culture; however, some academic research indicates I do indeed know the President of the United States.

The first traces of this idea started after World War I. Late Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy stated that the “modern world was ‘shrinking’ due to this ever increasing connectedness of human beings.” Karinthy saw that everything around him was changing after the first major world war. Technological advances in communication and travel allowed friendship networks to grow larger and span greater distances. He argued that the social networks people were starting narrowed the distances of the world, thus “shrinking” the world. He believed that people were connected through no more than five acquaintances.[1] Karinthy never coined the term of “six degrees of separation,” but his early ideas influenced later research in the academic and philosophical fields.

As years went on, Karinthy’s theory was tossed around academic circles. In 1969, American psychologist Stanley Milgram noted that everyone on Earth was connected by approximately three links. Milgram was “fascinated by the interconnectedness and social capital of human networks” and concluded that the world was experiencing a “small world problem.”[2]

A lot changed over the years from Karinthy in the post-WWI years to Milgram and the 1960s. Modes of transportation and communication increased: domestic and international commercial flights, the automobile revolution, the telephone, the television, and the list goes on. The world actually, to some degree, felt smaller. During that time, social advances occurred and people were more connected than ever, causing the idea to gain traction among academic and philosophical circles, but it didn’t yet come near the stratosphere of today’s social acceptance.

Society’s interconnectedness was no longer limited to academic and philosophical thinking in the early 1990s. The theory of “six degrees of separation” was coined during that time. The theory was catapulted throughout popular culture by John Guare, who wrote a play in 1990 and later released a film in 1993 that popularized “six degrees.” He argued that any two individuals are connected by, at most, five others. As noted above, this idea had been cultivating interest for the better part of the century. But it was Guare’s piece that is most responsible for popularizing the phrase “six degrees of separation.” Guare’s film, which was appropriately named Six Degrees of Separation, provided us with this pertinent quote:

I read somewhere that everyone on this planet is separated only by 6 other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on the planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names. I find it, A) extremely comforting that we are so close, and B) like Chinese water torture that we’re so close because you have to find the right six people to make that right connection.[3] See image here [4]

So where does Kevin Bacon fit into all of this? Shortly after Guare’s movie was released, a couple of students at Albright College started a parlor game called “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” In this game, players go back and forth to try and figure out how any individual in Hollywood is connected back to the venerated actor Kevin Bacon. The basis of the game is that any one person is connected to any other person on Earth. The “trick,” however, is figuring out which people connect person X to person Y. Reminiscent of Guare’s movie Six Degrees of Separation, the “trick” of finding the right people to connect to could be like Chinese water torture.

How to Overcome Chinese Water Torture

Look at what has happened since Karinthy first ushered in his theory of connectedness to the public eye after WWI, especially regarding the use of computers and the internet. If our world was described by Milgram as having a “small world problem” and by Karinthy as “shrinking,” where do we find ourselves today? Table for 7 billion people, please, maybe by the window? But really, with the revolution of the internet and everything it has created, we truly are connected to anyone on this Earth.

If I am in fact connected to the President of the United States in fewer than six degrees, well, go me. But how on Earth do I fill in those blanks? The internet would be my best resource, as I could find any information that I wanted. Where to start, where to look, and what to look for would be my main problems. These problems would add up to hours, days, or even months of research! What I need, what you need, what an actor in Hollywood needs to connect to Kevin Bacon is Relationship Mapping.

Sandro Gvelesiani, CEO of IntellectSpace, a Relationship Mapping company, describes what Relationship Mapping is to him: “the guiding principle is to understand relationships, understand connections. More so, Relationship Mapping is the glue that connects people together.” But how? First, Prospect Visual, a pioneering product of IntellectSpace, collects and curates the data. “After the data is collected,” explains Gvelesiani, “it then begins to tell us a story. It tells us, visually, how people are connected.” See image here [5]

The impossible task of finding a connection to the President of United States now seems manageable. Can Prospect Visual tell me if I know the President? No. But can Prospect Visual tell me to whom I should connect who might know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows the President? Maybe. Can Prospect Visual guarantee you that this is the case? Of course no ] t. But can Relationship Mapping with Prospect Visual give you the tools to better understand your network? Absolutely.

To sum up, our world of connectivity will continue to “shrink.” This “small world problem” will continue to get smaller, but in actuality, this problem will be no problem at all with Relationship Mapping. Our ability to understand the interconnectedness of our small world will be no “trick” at all.

Kevin Bacon never felt so close.

[1] Karinthy, Frigyes. 1929. “Chain-Links.” Everything Is Different.

[2] Milgram, Stanley. 1969. “An Experimental Study of the Small World Problem.” Sociometry.

[3] Memorable quotes from Six Degrees of Separation. Accessed January 3, 2014, on

[4] Image pulled from Google Images

[5] Image pulled from Prospect Visual database, using Example data

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