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February 20, 2013

How Many Degrees of Separation Exist Between Websites?

By Frank Griffin, TMCnet Contributing Writer

Before you arrive at the answer to that question, you probably already know that currently there are an estimated 14 billion websites, and with that many pages you are probably thinking it has got to be very high. If you base your assumption on the brilliant theory that there are six degrees of separation between two people and there are currently seven billion people on earth it has to be at least 12, right? At least that is what my limited mathematical brain led me to believe and as absurd as it may sound, it is not that far off. The magic number ladies and gentlemen is 19, a number arrived at by Albert-László Barabási a Hungarian Physicist.

So how is it possible to connect all sites in cyber space with just 19 clicks, and how sound is this finding by Barabási? His results was published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society which is a division of the Royal Society, a repository of knowledge since it was chartered in 1660. The publication also came with an image created by Barret Lyon as part of his Opte Project to represent the Web visually. This representation has been part of the permanent collection at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Boston Museum of Science.

Now that we have verified the legitimacy of the physicist, let us delve into some of his science. Although there are around one trillion Web documents and more than 14 billion pages, Barabási discovered the vast majority of them are poorly connected. These poorly connected pages however attach themselves to very popular pages, which in turn attach themselves to other popular pages and the cycle repeats itself.

The physicist says the “small world” of the Web can be attributed to basically how humans interact with each other. Groups are part of who we are whether we are in the real world or the virtual one. He goes on to say, “The pages of the web aren’t linked randomly. They’re organized in an interconnected hierarchy of organizational themes, including region, country and subject area.”

It should also be noted the Internet will always be defined by the interconnectedness we inherently seek out no matter where it is. To prove this point, Barabási looked at every segment of the network from the smallest section to the entire one trillion documents and found out the 19-click-or-less rules applies no matter the scale.

While this information highlights the fact that we are human, another aspect of how the data can be used also reminds us of that fact. Barabási is letting security experts know knocking out a small amount of strategically located nodes can result in isolating many high value pages. This isolation would make them more vulnerable. Nodes with high value assets have better protection, but he mentions the significance of a few key pages.

The beauty of science is it can be fun, illuminating and at times frightening, but understanding the environment we live in no matter what it reveals has gotten us this far. If we endeavor to go further, there is no telling where we might end up.

Edited by Jamie Epstein
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