Bacon Number: Google’s new 6 degrees of bacon feature
Way back when in 1994, Craig Fass, Brian Turtle and Mike Ginelli wrote a letter to Jon Stewart of The Jon Stewart Show telling him that they “slowly began to realise that Kevin Bacon was the centre of the entertainment universe”.
They realised that they could relate any actor back to Kevin Bacon within six moves, and after writing that letter, they got invited onto the Jon Stewart’s show to demonstrate their theory.
Then, in 1996, the nerdy trio wrote a book called Six Degrees of Bacon (with an introduction by Kevin Bacon, no less).
Now if you’re not great at your filmology and want something a little more up-to-date then a book (pff!) then there’s help at hand: a Google tool which can help you determine exactly how many degrees away from Bacon an actor is. Hurrah!
Ohh yes. That’s right, Google has just launched its excellent new Bacon Number search feature.
Just search ‘bacon number + actor’ (e.g. ‘Bacon Number Glen A. Larson) into the search bar, and Google will tell you exactly how your chosen actor is connected to our Kev. Look!:
So we thought we’d be clever and outsmart Google’s Bacon Number generator by asking it to tell us how many degrees away from Bacon a couple of obscure soap actors were, and it failed. But…we did choose the likes of Bill Treacher – Eastenders’ Arthur Fowler:
… and, err, Julie Goodyear (Corrie’s Bette Lynch):
… so fair play.
But while this might seem like a frivolous bit of search fun, the idea behind Google’s Bacon Number is based on a popular mathematical term called the Erdös Number, which describes the ‘collaborative distance’ between any individual and the mathematician Paul Erdős (basically, the however-many degrees of Paul Erdös).
Bacon Number is therefore a good way for search engineers to test how to search for and analyse connections, as opposed to individual search terms – research that’s feeding into the development of the Google Knowledge Graph.
And the world may be smaller than you think. We tested lots of actors, past and present, and found that many came up as having a bacon number of just one or two. But, as you can see in the screenshot above, Glen A. Larson (more commonly known as the wily M.E. Quincy) came up with an unusual score of three. We were quite pleased with ourselves for finding that.
So in terms of the Knowledge Graph, the six degrees of Kevin Bacon idea can be expanded to include the world’s population, and demonstrate that everyone will know someone who knows someone (etc.) who knows Kevin Bacon (who, in 2007, actually started a charitable organization called SixDegrees.org, which he based on the small-world concept).
So far though, Bacon Number only recognises the connections between actors and Kevin Bacon, and, contrary to what you might think, it’s not getting its information from IMDb – unlike its counterpart, The Oracle of Bacon.
Google instead gets its information from its own Knowledge Graph, which consists of around 500 million entities that collectively inform the right-hand side of your Google search results page – where its Knowledge Graph information appears – so this is why you might have trouble finding some much lesser-known actors.