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Small-world research started about fifty years ago with an idea about a social phenomenon: that any two randomly chosen individuals in a country, or in the world even, could be connected with each other via a relatively short chain of acquaintances. But since its formation, this idea has evolved and – despite research almost dying off in the 1980s – has now become an exciting and vital area of study. Following the publication of seminal research in the late 1990s, which shed new light on the question of how short connections are possible in large scale networks, researchers began to see the significance of their subject reflected in many different facets of existence; small-world structures were found in a number of distinct contexts, including, for ...

Editor's Introduction: Six Themes of ‘Six Degrees’

Small-world research is based on the famous idea that any pair of individuals can be connected by a short chain of intermediate acquaintances. To illustrate this idea, Milgram (1967) describes the chance encounter of two previously unacquainted men in Tunis: an American and an Englishman. Both are pleased, yet surprised, to find out that they share a common acquaintance in the United States. Many of us may have experienced similar encounters and expressed our surprise with a phrase like: “It's a small world, isn't it?” To take another fictitious example: My friend, an Italian student, has a professor at her home university whose acquaintance works in the administration of the Vatican. And this acquaintance has a friend in ...

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