Ten years ago, few people would have heard of a social network. Today, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn permeate our lives. They show us how we are linked to each other and how we are more broadly placed within society.
What fascinates scientists is that the general properties of social networks seem to be invariant regardless of where they crop up. For example, one of the remarkable properties of social networks is their small world character. This means it is possible to go from one part of a network to any other part in a small number of steps (this is where the phrase 6 degrees of separation comes from).
That was entirely unexpected and counterintuitive when it was discovered in the 1960s by the American social psychologist Stanley Milgram. But it is as true today of Facebook and Twitter as it was of the society in which Milgram carried out his experiments.
Today, P J Miranda at the Federal Technological University of Paraná in Brazil and a couple of pals study the social network between characters in Homer’s ancient Greek poem, the Odyssey. Their conclusion is that this social network bears remarkable similarities to Facebook, Twitter and the like and that this may offer an important clue about the origin of this ancient story.