Microsoft has news for those who hold to the "Six degrees of Kevin Bacon" theory. We are linked with everyone else on the planet by 6.6 degrees of separation, not six.
Researchers at Microsoft studied records of 30 billion electronic conversations among 180 million people in various countries....This was 'the first time a planetary-scale social network has been available,' they observed. The database covered all the Microsoft Messenger instant-messaging network in June 2006, equivalent to roughly half the world's instant-messaging traffic at that time.
It's a nice corroboration of the "six degrees" theory, but I actually find the data used much more interesting. What would you do with 30 billion electronic conversations?
What would I do? I'd use that data, and other such data from Facebook and other social networks, to describe my social graph and thereby provide trusted commercial connections with others. Knowing my connection to that person on the other side of an eBay purchase? Priceless. I suspect we'd act very different online if we knew how closely we're actually connected to that hitherto anonymous buyer or seller.
Trust is the currency of any viable economy. Whoever can figure out how to corral the data behind our respective social graphs and turn it to commercial use will be the next billion-dollar business. Hint: It starts with the address book.