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"How Did That Chain Letter Get to My Inbox?"
National Science Foundation (05/16/08); Cruikshank, Dana W.
Cornell University's Jon Kleinberg and Carleton College's David
Liben-Nowell, backed by the National Science Foundation, Google, Yahoo,
and the MacArthur Foundation, studied how chain emails are spread over the
Internet. The researchers examined two email petitions that circulated
within the past 10 years--one that supports public radio, which started in
1995, and the other in opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which
started in 2002. The researchers were able to find 316 copies of the
public radio petition containing more than 13,000 signatures, and 637
copies of the Iraq petition with almost 20,000 signatures. The
researchers mapped how the messages traveled from recipient to recipient
using a tree diagram. An analysis of the diagram found that instead of
traveling like a virus, with each message producing multiple direct
"descendents," 90 percent of the time only a single descendent was
selected. The study also found that the messages rarely took the most
direct route between two inboxes, even when two people were connected by a
few degrees of separation, and it was not uncommon for a recipient to
receive the same message multiple times. "The chain letters themselves
often got to people by highly circuitous routes," Kleinberg says. "You
could be six steps away from someone, and yet the chain letter could pass
through up to 100 intermediaries before showing up in your inbox."
S.D. Clark Professor of Sociology, FRSC NetLab Director
Department of Sociology University of Toronto
725 Spadina Avenue, Room 388 Toronto Canada M5S 2J4
Updating history: http://chass.utoronto.ca/oldnew/cybertimes.php
Elvis wouldn't be singing "Return to Sender" these days
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