Monday, July 10, 2006

Degrees of Separation

At the weekend, Billy invented this game on his blog which I'm convinced is incredibly meaningful on all kinds of levels.

The aim is to go to a random blog by clicking on the 'next blog' button (which everyone apart from me seems to have) at the top of the screen, and then find your way back to http://oyebilly.blogspot.com through blogroll links. Keep a note of the blogs you travel through, there's no going backwards unless the blog you arrive on doesn't have a blogroll, and the smallest number of hops wins.

I was astonished, and probably a bit more excited than is healthy, to find that I made it back fairly easily from two random blogs to Billy's; one in 15 hops, and one in 8. What struck me was how much it was like being lost in the real world: you instinctively head for something that looks familiar (a city, an industry, a special interest), and you get an odd sense of relief when you get to a blog you recognise and know that you're going to make it back.

When you do get back, you almost feel like putting the kettle on and having some tea and chocolate biscuits while your socks dry out and you regale everyone with stories of the wonderful things you've seen.

This all tells me:

1. There must be an equivalent to the real-world six degrees of separation rule in the blogosphere, and if lots of people do this experiment, it should be possible to work out what the average number of degrees of separation is.

2. Contrary to the traditional view of the blogosphere, where the value of a blog is measured by the number of links into it, in this game the valuable blogs are the ones with lots of links out. I don't know yet if that means anything.

3. The blogosphere probably isn't as big as we think it is.

4. This experiment hints at what a blogosphere map might be like. GSE says blogosphere maps already exist, but I've never seen one and can't even begin to imagine what it would look like. For a start, it would be constantly changing as new blogs start and others die, and people link to new blogs and remove links to others. There is an early attempt here, but I think they must have given up in horror at the enormity of the task.

5. There must be blog equivalents of Clapham Junction* for this game, where you can orient yourself if you want to head in a particular direction. I think the characteristics of these must be: a) their name indicates they're based in a certain city and/or b) their name indicates they revolve around a certain industry or special interest.

6. I am plumbing depths of geekiness to which even I had never previously sunk.

I have no idea what it all means, though. I think it's a case of 'write this down now, because it might become important later'.


* Just remembered that Sean told me earlier that Malcolm Gladwell is on the case with this already, though his is slightly different, because in this game the individual bloggers may not be 'well connected' in the social sense at all; they just have lots of links out.


tags: | |

36 comments:

Billy said...

You could name it a Patroclus Number as you were the first to do a proper post about it. It would of course be the blogging equivalent of the Erdos number. There must be some mathematical algorithm that can work all of this out.

patroclus said...

There must be indeed, Billy. Where does one find a mathematician at this time of night?

I never knew about the Erdos number, thanks for that. Although I think it should be the Billy Number, as you invented it.

Heather said...

You are right Patroclus. On my attempt at a boomerang trip through the blogosphere at first I tried a link randomly, then I instinctively went for the comic book blogs in hope that they would bring me back through the screenwriting blogs.
However this proved only to lead me on an interesting foray into sex blog territory, yet I still found my way back!

Maybe the blogosphere is much smaller than we think.

patroclus said...

Oo, sultry new pic, Heather!

I think you deserve a special prize for successfully finding your way out of the sex blogs. The Ariadne Prize for purposeful direction in the face of adversity, perhaps.

smoo2 said...

Ok, I thought I would have a go at the 'finding your way back' game. The first four *next blogs* had no links then I got an extremely dodgy blog with very dodgy photos!. Perhaps the sex blogs have extra links to confuse the random blog button. I think I need a lie down now...

Heather said...

A prize, why thank you!

I must admit those sex blogs were a bit worrying.

Do you think it says something that I went from comics blogs to sex blogs in one fell swoop?

hen said...

Hmm... well the first 3 I tried had no blog roll at all and the next one resulted in me wandering, lonely and lost for 14 long clicks through endlessly self-linking dead American Republican politics blogs, tumble weed rolling over the last update in 2004. I now have a beard and a strange distance in my eyes.

cello said...

The people who provide many doors through which visitors can escape to other blogworlds are generous souls.

I hope you get the reward you are supposed to get when you allow - encourage even - your children to escape your parental clutches. They end up wanting to come back home all the time, and sometimes never leave at all.

Heather said...

I think we may have a record. I tried it again and got back to oyebilly in 3 steps. I hit next blog which took me to...

http://eddieonfilm.blogspot.com
http://culturalsnow.blogspot.com
http://oyebilly.blogspot.com

I was back in all of 2 minutes.

The Blind Flaneur said...

Given that there are only 6 degrees of separation in the real world, and 8-15 in blogger world, that means there must be between, er, 8-15 billion bloggers. Which means it's bigger than we thought, rather than smaller. Or am I being obtuse.

Also, I think I know what happens in Hidden, though I appreciate I'm a little late.

treespotter said...

i been trying to look for it, there was a map done somewhere. will drop you a mail when i found it. it is an interesting phenomenon. maybe i'm just as much a geek.

Neurotica said...

good lord, folks, it took me too bloody many random clicks just to find my way here. you think im going out there again?*shudders*

rockmother said...

I agree - I think the blogosphere is smaller than we think - a bit like the world as we know it. Sorry - I didn't mean to sound like Cpn Spock when I said that. It often happens that I trot off on a tangent only to get back to people I 'know' in the infinite horizon of blogland. There will be an equation somewhere to explain it all. Geekdom. I love it.

I never do that 'next blog' button though - a mixture of fear and supposition creeps in that it might be boring and not in my immediate circle of blogs I like and visit regularly. But I'm going to press the next blogger button now and blog about it. Thanks for a really interesting post.

rockmother said...

This site is quite interesting re: your post.

http://www.cybergeography.org/atlas/atlas.html and I did a further post on my blog too - you were name-checked!

GreatSheElephant said...

I thought they showed a map at that conference we went to? Or was it a different conference? Anyhow, I don't think it was of the entire blogosphere - I thought the map I saw was about mapping links that related to particular brands.

Here are a few thoughts about why it might not be six degrees in the blogosphere.

Is there a blog equivalent of the extended family who you never talk to? Six degrees presumably includes relatives in the real world but in the blogosphere, they aren't likely to appear on the blog roll.

Are there more or fewer people with no blogrolls than with no friends?

And (faintly suspicious here) - most of my attempts have landed me up on non-English language blogs. Has this not happened to anyone else?

I've made about five attempts so far and haven't got anywhere, even once.

GreatSheElephant said...

another 5 clicks of next blog, resulting in 5 blogs with no blogroll...

Spinsterella said...

I ended up on lots of Spanish-language sites. Got distracted by Go Fug Yourself.

Anyhow, ages ago, I was clicking 'next blog' at work and I stumbled upon one that I'd read a few times. I was a bit surprised as aren't ther supposed to be about a billion blogs out there??

GreatSheElephant said...

aargh
Philipino blogs only link to other Philipino blogs

I am determined to get home

patroclus said...

GSE: That must have been a different conference - I'm sure there are maps of *bits of* the blogosphere, but the whole thing?

I tried the experiment again earlier, and got stuck in a huge community of Malaysian teenagers living in Canada (who'd have thought it?). There didn't seem to be any way out of there, but I didn't have time to look properly.

Spin: There are supposed to be 47 million blogs in total, so there will be considerably fewer than that number on Blogger - and who knows how many of them are just spam blogs? Or 'splogs', as they are prettily becoming known.

GSE (again): Should we send in Search and Rescue?

GreatSheElephant said...

now that's just getting too Neuromancer for words

patroclus said...

Gasp! Real life 'now actually like Neuromancer' shocker!

I've been waiting for this moment for years.

Maybe I should actually read Neuromancer now, instead of just pretending I have.

GreatSheElephant said...

I'd be interested in your opinion on it. There were a couple of excellent moments where I thought - that sentence inspired an entire movie - but mostly I didn't understand it much.

Until now! The power of blogging...

realdoc said...

As a relative newcomer to reading and posting on blogs I still find the whole thing a bit confusing. With blogrolls do you have to get someone's permission to put them on your blog roll or can you just do it? Still pondering whether I have enough to say to start my own.
On another site my virtual pal kate told me of the concept of cultural wormholes within the cyberspace world so maybe the blogosphere really is enormous but with high speed connections between weird and unconnected places. God it makes my brain hurt to think about it.

patroclus said...

realdoc: I've occasionally asked other people for permission to link to them, but I don't think anyone really expects it. I certainly don't expect people to ask me, and I'm always very flattered when someone does link to me.

Let me know if you decide to start your own - it's fun, but also quite unnerving at times. I worry inordinately about every single post I write. Pure vanity, probably.

occasional poster of comments said...

Haven't tried the 6 Degrees blog game yet (although it's only a matter of time), but I have just found an odd link between this post and the last one. During my uncharacteristic tidying fit last night (in the midsts of which I spotted that interview with the director of Hidden) I put aside an interview with Malcom Gladwell to read later. I just picked it up and on the back is the Hidden thing. Spooky.

Then again, maybe you also chucked out an old copy of the Observer recently that had been lying around since February. And it's not that spooky at all.

Or would that actually be slightly spookier?

patroclus said...

Wow, OPC, that *is* spooky. Although I sort of imagine your whole life as having some mythical magical-realist tinge to it. I'm not sure why. I wouldn't have been particularly surprised if you'd said that you'd discovered a winged gryphon while tidying up.

Molly Bloom said...

I just felt really bad because I couldn't do it. And I'm still feeling scarred by all the religious sites I had to go through. And they just were looking at me...pointing....shouting...
'Atheist!'
'Get away before we make you wear a celibacy ring!'
And all sorts of nasty things. And it was a bit like the Crystal Maze where they frantically press on the button of the door and say, 'Let me out' or 'Do it to Julia'

But I get lost outside my own front door...so this is perhaps why. Perhaps it has something to do with lateral thinking?

Some people are much better at finding their way home than others. Perhaps because I was always escaping home...I maybe had some deep psychological urge NOT to come home and that's why I purposefully get lost. I mean....look at you and Heather...how did you do that? I find that really strange that Heather managed to get back in three steps. THREE!

That is impressive.

But...is it linked to our psychology? Or is it just luck. Or is it just good lateral thinking? Or alien forces?

hen said...

Regarding the maps or rather the lack of them - there have been many pretty pictures of the physical internet. Each packet of information that is sent over the internet goes through nodes belonging to several different companies - finding trouble hot spots or heavily used bottle-necks has a technical and economic public imperative.

The social networks that lie on top is slightly different. Writing an internet robot spider that trawls blog rolls and reports the finding to a central master mapping system would be fairly easy to do but the resources to run the necessary servers would be rather expensive.

Unless of course you wrote some self-replicating spider bot that adapted to its environment before continuing its long goal - recompiling and configuring itself before it went to the next server like a deep under cover secret agent...

But sadly that is technically writing a government threatening virus which can land you in some US prison without trial on a dubious terrorism charge.

The only people who have the legal authority and money enough to care are the advertisers, marketers and the people running the new social networks themselves..

Detailed information of vast emergent social networks and the vital nodes would be gold dust to any modern company.

MySpace and Google have it but are keeping it quiet.

MySpace because making the info public would a huge advantage to their competitors and they are happily using it for the marketing goals of the rest of the Murdoch empire. Google, because their users have clearly expressed an overwhelming desire be ad-free and they are still trying to keep their IPO promise of being non-evil.

Maybe the adage of the 21st century will be - the price of freedom is eternal ignorance.

Anyway it is more fun to travel without a map.

Annie Rhiannon said...

Um, this doesn't work at all?

GreatSheElephant said...

I further observe that there are a lot hermetically sealed bubbles out there that you can get into via the next blog button but you can then never leave. Like a sorority in Michigan. Or some Spaniards from Asturias. Or those Filipinos yesterday.

frangelita said...

I tried it a little bit. Got confused and lost. Went home with my tail between my legs.

patroclus said...

Oh, so many quality comments to respond to, so little time...back later, although I think I have to go see Ed Harcourt first.

Interpreter Pavlov said...

Tried this and FIRST GO landed on Iain Dale. H'm.

Someone, somewhere, knows something. It's like those ouija boards we used to scare each other with as kids when the moving finger spelt out BEWAREMERV - or maybe those folded paper finger fortune tellers at primary school where you chose a number and then a colour and when you unfolded the flap it said YOU SMELL.

Tabby Rabbit said...

Strange: in the real world I will happily wander into any bar or city that I don't know at all and chat to total strangers (as a child I had a thrill-seeking thing about getting on a train and going to places where I didn't know anyone - I still have a touch of that).

But I don't want to go and see other people's blogs *stamps feet*. I don't *know* them.

How nonsensical is that?

DavetheF said...

Well, I've given up, first I got past Li'l Fairy via Talking Cock (Singaporean movie producers, go figure), butnthey only link to their own stuff. I've been back to next blog several times but I always land up in a Singaporean teenage blog love-in and can't get out. Isn't next blog supposed to be a bit random?

DavetheF said...

Well, I've given up, first I got past Li'l Fairy via Talking Cock (Singaporean movie producers, go figure), butnthey only link to their own stuff. I've been back to next blog several times but I always land up in a Singaporean teenage blog love-in and can't get out. Isn't next blog supposed to be a bit random?.p