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It's a small world after all
delirium happy
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For the most part, small world syndrome over the Internet (and derived real life activities) no longer surprises me at all. I managed to grow accustomed to random people I'd never heard of and who didn't share any of my social spaces approaching me in pubs at Internet meets and saying "oh, so you're the infamous Rachel Walmsley then?" or similar. It doesn't really surprise me when someone I know from one circle also happens to know someone I know from another circle. quite frankly, I'd be surprised if I ever knew someone from Cambridge who wasn't in some way involved in that particular poly-tendrilled and incestuous circle.

So when last night livredor (who I know from LJ support) mentioned to me that she thought I might know her boyfriend, I wasn't surprised. Turns out that she was (mostly) right, as he is lethargic_man, who I don't really know, per se, but did meet a couple of times during my alt.fan.pratchett days.

Today though, the gods of the small world really decided that I was getting complacent, so they'd have to pull out all of the stops with me. My ex (sath) has recently become involved with a guy (wyrddragon) who, so we discovered this morning also happens to be the ex of another of my exes (switchbit)! And this is all through meeting each other independently. I think that the reason that this surprises me is purely because of the relatively much smaller sample size. the number of people who I've been involved with is one or two orders of magnitude smaller than the number of people who I have known.

It has got me thinking somewhat though, about the more general application of small world syndrome. The standard explanation, in terms of how there are many tightly clustered webs with a few connections between webs just doesn't work here, I don't think. I think that the more accurate picture is to consider the super-group involved. In this case, I think that you can definitely get a fairly good impression of what this super-group is. It is people in the UK, who heavily use the Internet, and are members of online communities of people such as geeks, goths, bisexuals, hackers, sf&f fans, spods, coders, Oxbridge alumni, pagans and so on and so forth. Much of it is Usenet-centric, including several froups which are exclusively or predominantly British, and most of it also involves many face to face gatherings. I'm quite sure that there will be a good number of people reading this who will be nodding their heads and knowing the precise group that I mean, even if they couldn't quite define it.

I have enough current, former or associate membership in disparate groups within this super-group that it's hardly surprising that there are a large number of interconnections (afp, upp, a bizarre sort of vague connection to the bisexuals and the snowplains spods neither of which I can quite comprehend, LJ support (which while not really a part of the super-group since most of it is American and the British contingent mostly lack the Zen, does contain a few individuals who can serve as nodes (karen2205 and livredor spring to mind))).

I was specifically pondering two questions about this super-group: firstly, I wonder about how widespread this phenomenon is. For instance, I don't think a similar thing could exist in the USA because it's just too big. It simply wouldn't be practical for there to be regular meetings of people from across the country, and I don't think that smaller areas, such as individual states have a sufficiently distinct cultural identity to really encourage the state-specific groupings. I could be wrong though, of course. What I would be interested in knowing about would be comparable groupings in other countries of similar size and population (France and Germany instantly spring to mind). I also suspect that the geeky nature of the group is a necessary factor, as I suspect that most people would be reluctant to meet up in person with people they knew on the Internet. Again though, this is just speculation, and I could be wrong.

Secondly, I wonder how big it is. This question obviously depends on exactly how you define it, both in terms of its constituent groups, and the requirements for membership in the group (do we include the several million lurkers who are reported to support people in email, for instance?) but my intuited guess would be somewhere of the order of 5,000-10,000 if you're being moderately but not exceptionally generous with the definitions. The related question would be to do with the structure of the internal groups, and their interconnectedness. For instance, I know from personal experience that a member of comp.sys.sinclair has a greater than average probability of also being a member of alt.fan pratchett; similarly with uk.people.polyamorous and uk.religion.pagan. If you had all this sort of data, then you could probably do some sort of meaningful calculation as to just how many small world coincidences someone ought to expect.

I'm quite sure there must be a sociology thesis just waiting to be written about all of this. Any which way though, it doesn't explain how someone I don't know at all could have been involved with two of my exes. I guess that there's just no accounting for taste.

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You find that in cities in the U.S. (both the city of Manchester [140,000 people, plus a metro area of another 60,000 or so] and Nashua [90,000 people, metro area of another 40,000] where I grew up had a basic 3 degrees of separation from 90% of the city)

There are areas that are that closely knit -- San Francisco immediately springs to mind, Seattle. Not so much Chicago or New York. Boston definitely. But often within the same state or region of a state, you're going to find a lot of that, "Holy shit, you knew them too?"

Turns out the dishwasher at Denny's I used to smoke marihuana with was the best man at my girlfriend's wedding. [I heard this a year and a half ago. Still sorta shocks me.] It happens. As for Internet linkages, I don't think USians are quite as fixated.

Hmm.

Except that I find that I often run into small-world connections where (a pair of) the UK-internet-supergroup, the fandom-supergroup and the UK-Christian supergroup are involved. And whilst these three groups trivially intersect they don't themselves seem to obviously create a super-supergroup in the same way...

</wibbling type=random>

There are times when I'm bloody glad I don't spend any time on Usenet any more, franky, though still I occasionally pine for the fjords uk.people.gothic. These days, I think pretty much every SWS moment I have is through people in various geek scenes, which is considerably easier to deal with.

(Deleted comment)
the UK, who heavily use the Internet, and are members of online communities of people such as geeks, goths, bisexuals, hackers, sf&f fans, spods, coders, Oxbridge alumni, pagans and so on and so forth. Much of it is Usenet-centric, including several froups which are exclusively or predominantly British, and most of it also involves many face to face gatherings.

I get the feeling that I really ought to recognise this group rather than actually recognise it, if it makes any sense.

I'm a heavy internet user, ex Oxford and associate with geeks (OxIRC, Gllug, london.pm, london.crafts, Lonix). But most of the other stuff doesn't apply to me and I've never really posted in the .uk hierarchy of newsgroups - I occassionally look at uk.misc and umra but that's more 'cos people have referenced it on LJ and I'm looking something up/notice an interesting discussion. I probably should try reading more Usenet. I generally reserve it for reading when I'm in need of somewhere to rant consequence free.

So I find the suggestion that I'm a node quite amusing:-) Yeah, I know a lot of people, but not particularly well or anything.

Heh. I remember when uk.people.polyamoury started and I kept seeing people there who I knew from other places (other Usenet groups, SF Fandom, urp, etc.). Then there's the chiark group. But it's not just that, some people seem to just get known whether they do anything or not. I used to be like that (the overlap is so high now that I don't know if it's sigificant), my sister would say "I met and he recognised me as your sister", and I'd be going "Who the blazes is and why does he know me?"

Of course, there's the "small number of Real People(tm)" theory, that there is only actually a small number of Real People and the rest are all "extras" to fill in the space. There are times I favour that one...

I think I first noticed small-worldliness on AFP.

Through the worldwide reach of the Internet, I found someone on Livejournal who lives four blocks away.

I take "Russian part" of the Internet as something small. Sometimes when I come to a new place, I find people connected with somebody I know there. This had happened when I came to LiveJournal. I used to be a part of a smaller computer games-related group back than. And I found a guy from that group during my first days on livejournal.com.
Sometimes it even looks like wherever I go, I'll find someone who knows someone I know, but I guess that it is related to the time I spend on the Internet, and that people I meet usually know what the Internet is too. :)

hello,

lethargic_man pointed this post out to me and its incredibly interesting, i have noticed many of the same things. do you mind if i post a link to it in my journal? i am not sure what the common pracice is but i thought i should ask before going ahead *grin*

I don't know what common practice s either, but any which way, I odn't mind you linking to this :)

And she linked to it in *my* LJ, and you mention you are an ex-SP spod too? Have we met? (Somehow this seemed such an apt post to ask this!) If it was any time more recently than say the last 3 or 4 years, then you may only have seen my name on ?credits, but anything before that....

More recently than that, and never with much vigour. I hung around for a little while but never really got "into" it, and didn't hang around for long, but due to the wonders of LJ came away with a substantially bigger friends list (which has since been cut down, but it meant I ended up knowing more snowplains spods than was really warranted by the amount of time I spent there).

So no, I don't think we've ever met, though it can be hard to say for sure sometimes. Your name is one of those that always strikes me as vaguely familiar without my ever being able to place you, though. Presumably I've just seen or heard reference to you from time to time. Your userinfo is completely full of people I vaguely know, or have met once or twice, and so on. You know. Those people.

For instance, I don't think a similar thing could exist in the USA

Actually, I think there are a lot of these kinds of groups in the States - they probably just don't intersect much with the groups you connect to. Like the Santa Cruz geek houses of the mid nineties, the Clarion/spies on the wire tap sci fi writers and the tri.bizzare lot, for example. But perhaps these groups aren't quite as big as the one you're thinking of.

I also suspect that the geeky nature of the group is a necessary factor

That's definitely a big factor. Some of this goes quite a way back too - Cheeseplant's house, and groggs for example (the former eventually collapsed and scattered, and I think the latter evolved into ucam.chat?)

Do you have any idea why polyamorous people are more likely to be pagans? I can understand the 'not christian' part of polyamory, but why specifically pagan?

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