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This paper concerns the comparative performance evaluation of protocols for clustering and backbone formation in ad hoc networks characterized by a large number of resource-constrained nodes. Our aim is twofold: we provide the first simulation-based detailed investigation of techniques for clustering and backbone formation that are among the most representative of this area of ad hoc research. Second, we delve into the nature of the selected protocols to assess the effects of the "degree of localization" on their operations, i.e., how being able to execute the protocol based only on local information affects the overall protocol performance. Extensive ns2-based simulation results show that highly localized protocols are rewarded with good performance with respect to all metrics of interest which include protocol duration, energy consumption, message overhead, route length, and backbone size.