The notion that every person on the planet is no more than six degrees separate from everyone else may not be too far from the truth.

A new study from Microsoft has found that on average, people are less than seven degrees removed from each other.

That means that two perfect strangers from anywhere on the globe can be connected by a string of 6.6 acquaintances -- a phenomenon due largely to the rapid growth in online social networking that is quickly making the Earth a smaller place.

Researchers at Microsoft came up with the findings after analyzing the addresses attached to 30 billion instant messages sent between 180 million people around the world during June 2006.

It's the first time the popular notion of global connectivity has been demonstrated through real statistics.

The findings don't come as a shock to Stephen Ibaraki, past president of the Canadian Information Processing Society.

"I wasn't surprised at all because social network technology is building up so broadly today, and it's so ubiquitous, so this lends itself to this kind of research and these kinds of results," Ibaraki told CTV's Canada AM.

The research covered all the messages -- with the content first stripped for privacy purposes -- sent through the Microsoft Messenger network in a one month period.

According to the researchers those messages represented half of the world's instant message traffic at the time.

Though the researchers arrived at 6.6 as the average number of degrees of distance between all people, the numbers could range much higher or much lower, depending on the individuals.

They arrived at the average by examining the minimum length of the chains that would be necessary to connect all 180 million people to each other.

They also found that 78 per cent of those pairs could be connected using seven links or less.

Ibaraki said the average of 6.6 degrees of separation can be expected to fall as social networking becomes even more common.

"(Social networking) is not just something involving young people," he said.

"It's established that 50 per cent are over 35 using these services and more than 70 per cent are over 18 years of age and you're also seeing it in the political campaigns in the U.S. With (the Barack Obama campaign) they're actually using these kinds of social networking technologies, so it's very pervasive."

The idea of global connectivity was first proposed in the 1960s by American academics Stanley Milgram and Jeffrey Traverse who came up with the average 6.2. It was later popularized by the trivia game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" and a book by the same name.

They are based on the concept that any actor can be connected to Kevin Bacon through the actors he has worked with and the films he has been in.