With more than 14 billion webpages clogging the Internet, the World Wide Web can seem a daunting place. But just like Kevin Bacon is the glue that holds Hollywood together, one scientist discovered that every individual website can be navigated to in 19 clicks or less.
Hungarian physicist Albert-László Barabási recently discovered that of the roughly 1 trillion Web documents in existence — 14 billion-plus pages as well as every image, video, or other hosted file ever — most are linked to only a few other pages or documents.
But search engines, indexes, and aggregators have swooped in to offer a high-connectivity bridge; they function as what Smithsonian Magazine called “the ‘Kevin Bacons’ of the Web.”
Barabási’s findings, published over the weekend in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, chalk the “small world after all” concept up to simple human nature. In the real and virtual worlds, people tend to group together into communities of like-mindedness. Webpages are no different, according to Smithsonian, which reported that sites are actually organized in an interconnected hierarchy of themes like region and subject area.
Without revealing specifics about the actual act of clicking 19 times or less to find yourself at a specific website, Barabási did point out that his rule remains intact no matter how big the Web becomes.
His theory, however, opens cybersecurity risks — by eliminating a small number of crucial connections, hackers could isolate certain pages and make it impossible to move from one to another. Such an online revolution is not much of a concern, though, as Smithsonian said that those vital nodes are among the most protected, “but the findings still underline the significance of a few key pages,” the magazine said.
The decade-old Opte Project creates widely available visualizations of the Web, and is likely the closest the public will get to seeing Barabási’s work. The image above depicts links between webpages in Asia (red lines), Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (green), North America (blue), Latin America (yellow), and a remainder of unknown sources (white).
Web giant Google is certainly a starting point for Barabási’s research, but the site already joined the connectivity game last fall when it introduced the Bacon Number — in the search bar, type “Bacon number” and the name of an actor, musician, politician, or your SAG-card-holding uncle, and find out their Bacon Number. The hidden game serves as the formal digitization of the 1990s-era twist on the theory that everyone on the planet are connected by no more than six people.