Forget Google Earth, Google Street View, and those proposed Google goggles. Here is Google’s coolest feature: Google will now calculate how many degrees of separation a person is from Kevin Bacon.
It is the party game beloved of cinephiles everywhere, one which rewards detailed knowledge of the career of one of the finest actors never to receive an Oscar nomination. And now it is even easier to play: Google has built Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon into its search system.
Devised in January 1994 by a trio of students at Pennsylvania’s Albright college, the original game was based on the idea that it is always possible to connect every movie actor in the world back to the Footloose star in no more than six associations. A website, board game and book later emerged and an initially reluctant Bacon eventually embraced the phenomenon by launching his own site, SixDegrees.org, to foster charitable donations.
To use Google’s system, the user simply types in the words “Bacon number” followed by the name of the actor. By way of example, typing “Bacon number Simon Pegg” reveals that Bacon and the British actor are linked by Tom Cruise, because the latter appeared in 1992’s A Few Good Men with Bacon and in 2006’s Mission: Impossible III with Pegg. Pegg therefore has a Bacon number of two, indicating two degrees of separation.
Lead engineer Yossi Matias said the project was about showcasing the power of Google’s search engine by flagging up the deep-rooted connections between people in the film industry. “If you think about search in the traditional sense, for years it has been to try and match, find pages and sources where you would find the text,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “It’s interesting that this small-world phenomena when applied to the world of actors actually shows that in most cases, most actors aren’t that far apart from each other. And most of them have a relatively small Bacon number.”
By way of example, type French Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard’s name into the system and it is revealed that she has a Bacon number of two, while Humphrey Bogart, who died in 1957, nevertheless has a Bacon number of just three.
The Google algorithm (someone please explain how it works) just works for Hollywood figures, which is the original game, though one variation tries to connect anyone on earth to Mr. Bacon. I, for example, have a Bacon number of four: (1) The wife of a former colleague is the daughter of the man who did the make-up on Citizen Kane. (2) He worked for Orson Welles, who produced, directed, and acted in Citizen Kane. (3) Google tells me that Orson Welles appeared with Jack Nicholson in A Safe Place. (4) And that Jack Nicholson and Kevin Bacon appeared in A Few Good Men.
Another variation proposes that there are no more than six degrees of separation (or maybe a few more) between any two people in the world. For example, what chain of people who have met or have had a direct personal contact with each other might connect me to, say, a hypothetical Chinese peasant named Chen who lives in the Jiangxi province? (1) When I was in high school, I shook the hand of Senator Eugene McCarthy. (2) He shook the hand of Richard Nixon. (3) Nixon shook the hand of Mao Zedong. (4) Chairman Mao knew the members of his Communist Politburo. (5) The representative of the Jiangxi province worked with the Secret Police. (6) One of whose members doubtless spied on Chen and his parents.
I don’t know if that always works, of course. I suppose it’s based on the exponential calculations that perhaps someone could explain for us. (Is it that if each person has met a thousand people, six degrees would mean 1000 to the 6th power, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000, a number that would require a great deal of overlap since the world’s population is only about 7,000,000,000.)
I think it shouldn’t count if your only contact with a person is reading a book or article that was written by that person. But if you comment on the person’s blog, that does count, like talking to someone over the phone. So you can add onto my degrees of separation with Kevin Bacon.
Do any of you have any other interesting degrees of separation that the rest of us could then appropriate?