The outer limits of the worldwide web can feel like an infinite fraying of loose ends and time-sucking wormholes. But the web's estimated 14 billion individual pages and 1 trillion documents are actually connected more efficiently than anyone might reasonably imagine.
Researchers, publishing their findings in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, have discovered that you can navigate from any single page on the web to any other page in a mere 19 clicks or less. The principle is similar to the game "six degrees of Kevin Bacon," except with obscure, fringe-y GeoCities pages instead of, say, Cameron Diaz.
The 19-click threshold was discovered by Hungarian physicist Albert-László Barabási, who used computer simulations to get a better grasp of the web's vast, unmapped architecture.
Here's where things get particularly fascinating: Even though the web is growing at an unprecedented rate — some estimates suggest as many as 3.7 million new domains are registered every month — Barabási claims the magic number 19 will hold true until the last ethernet cable on Earth crumbles into dust.
How can this be? According to Smithsonian Mag, Barabási argues that the web, while it may seem random, is actually arranged "in an interconnected hierarchy of organizational themes, including region, country, and subject area." In that sense, it doesn't matter how much bigger the web gets, since it will always be organized in a similar way.
How does this organization work? Look at this website's navigation bar up above, for example. Or scroll to the bottom of Wikipedia to see data organized by different languages. The basic organizing principles employed by search engines, aggregators, and other big, connecting nodes like Reddit help to make the web a less messy place overall. In fact, these large internet hubs are what make getting from Point A to Point B possible in the first place — like the LAXs and JFKs of the digital globe.
So go ahead. Give it a shot. We can't guarantee you'll be able to pull off 19 clicks at first blush. But, in the spirit of interconnectedness, we do recommend that you try starting your journey from here.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why you should stop believing in evolution
- How Israel's hawks intimidated and silenced the last remnants of the anti-war left
- The secret to handling pressure like astronauts, Navy SEALs, and samurai
- Why China thinks it could defeat the U.S. in battle
- The real lesson of Rick Perry's mug shot
- The big policy question libertarians can't answer
- What you need to know before you support the police in Ferguson
- Welcome to the age of ambivalent feminism
- What the 'death of the library' means for the future of books
- How the West produces jihadi tourists
Subscribe to the Week