Everyone knows the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon theory, right? This is, of course, the idea that any Hollywood actor can be linked through his or her film roles to Kevin Bacon within six steps. Facebook made a somewhat similar claim in 2011 when the social media company teamed with researchers at the Universita degli Studi di Milano to discover that thanks to modern computing, we're all globally connected by a mere 4.74 degrees.
Now there's a new study that makes a downright jaw-dropping claim: that of the roughly one trillion web documents in existence -- 14 billion-plus pages, plus every image, video, or other hosted file -- every individual website can be navigated to in 19 clicks or less.
Basically, no matter what wholesome section of the web you're visiting, you're only 19 clicks away from, say, scatological donkey porn. Isn't that AMAZING?
Albert-László Barabási is the Hungarian physicist who decided to take on the grueling task of determining the connectedness of the Internet, and he did so by creating a simulated model of the web in order to understand its structure. (I picture this as looking like the scenes in Skyfall where the young computer-y guy is peering at Silva's laptop and saying things like "It's security through obscurity!" while Bond runs around in the tube station.) He found that sites are often organized in an interconnected hierarchy of themes, because people naturally form groups and communities based around similar interests.
Barabási's theory is that no matter how much the web grows, the 19-click rule will always apply as long as content is arranged and accessed via search engines.
It's all a little more complicated than my pea brain can handle, but aside from the donkey porn stuff, it's sort of soothing to know that it truly is a small world after all. Even in the incomprehensibly massive sprawl of the Internet, we're always connected -- and everything is closer than we think. Although this may not be terribly reassuring for parents hoping to keep their kids on the sunny side of the web for a few more years.
Are you surprised by the idea that every web page is connected within 19 clicks?
Screenshot via Linda Sharps