Most People Use the Web to Talk to People Nearby

Ever use email to talk to the person sitting one office down? You’re not alone. Most people use the Web to talking to people within their own city, not far-flung contacts, according to a new study by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

The study says that while the Web has developed a reputation as a tool for geo-commerce and penpalling, the main utility has been to increase communications hyper-locally. In fact, the abstract says, “the volume of electronic communications is inversely proportional to geographic distance.”

The finding puts a new spin on Stanley Milgram’s controversial 1963 hypothesis that every American is connected by roughly six mutual acquaintances. Apparently, our most-used connections–even aided by Facebook and all our other techno-tools–still have more to do with geographic distance than personality, work, politics or other uniting factors.

The Distribution of Physical Distances of Facebook Contacts

Experimenters studied data from 100,000 participants that were both Facebook users and email users. They found that most Facebook users’ friends are within several miles of their location–not too surprising (see graph above). But they also found that emailing followed the same pattern: 41% of the emails that participants sent were within their own city (see graph below). Click below to download the study.

The Distribution of Email Distances

[Via Clay Shirky]CD