WWW2009 EPrints

Social Search in "Small-World" Experiments

This item is a Paper in the Social Networks and Web 2.0 track.

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The “algorithmic small-world hypothesis” states that not only are pairs of individuals in a large social network connected by short paths, but that ordinary individuals can find these paths. Although theoretically plausible, empirical evidence for the hypothesis is limited, as most chains in “small-world” experiments fail to complete, thereby biasing estimates of “true” chain lengths. Using data from two recent small-world experiments, comprising a total of 162,328 message chains, and directed at one of 30 “targets” spread across 19 countries, we model heterogeneity in chain attrition rates as a function of individual attributes. We then introduce a rigorous way of estimating true chain lengths that is provably unbiased, and can account for empiricallyobserved variation in attrition rates. Our findings provide mixed support for the algorithmic hypothesis. On the one hand, it appears that roughly half of all chains can be completed in 6-7 steps—thus supporting the “six degrees of separation” assertion—but on the other hand, estimates of the mean are much longer, suggesting that for at least some of the population, the world is not “small” in the algorithmic sense. We conclude that search distances in social networks are fundamentally different from topological distances, for which the mean and median of the shortest path lengths between nodes tend to be similar.

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We (Southampton EPrints Project) intend to preserve the files and HTML pages of this site for many years, however we will turn it into flat files for long term preservation. This means that at some point in the months after the conference the search, metadata-export, JSON interface, OAI etc. will be disabled as we "fossilize" the site. Please plan accordingly. Feel free to ask nicely for us to keep the dynamic site online longer if there's a rally good (or cool) use for it... [this has now happened, this site is now static]