The Future = Now x Acceleration

The Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon & Networking

with 9 comments

Social Networking

Small Network

In the chapter “Sharing Anchors Community,” Clay Shirky tells how the birthday paradox shows that the more connections you have in a network, the more complex it becomes. A small network of friends, as shown at right, has a complicated set of interactions. There are any number of routes to take through that group.

This concept is key to showing how information travels through the Internet. The Internet was designed that traffic can take the shortest, least congested route through the group. That concept becomes even more important when you exponentially increase the size of the group.

Large Network

Large Network

But to travel across the network , data does not need to travel to each point on the network. It only needs to take the shortest path.

Consider the larger network at the left. Since we are connected to the billions of people on the Internet with our computers, phones and tablets it’s tempting to think of our connections to each other to  on to look like a vast version of the large network pictured here.

However, our connections to each other resemble most the connections we see when we look at our groups of Facebook “friends.” Some are actual friends; some are family; some are acquaintances; and some are colleagues. When we look at how we are organized (especially on the Internet) we are all not grouped together in the same fashion.

Network Clusters

Network Clusters

Some of your friends limit their network reach to your tight-knit group of friends but some are more gregarious and worldly. They don’t just travel in one group of friends, but several group. Some of these people with have dozens of connections in their networks, but some with have hundreds or thousands.

That dynamic changes how we connect to one another and it is a key aspect of the “six degrees of separation” concept. That’s the concept that states that any two people on Earth can be connected through six acquaintances. It’s also called the “small world theory.”

The way that is possible is illustrated by the graphic at the right.

Everyone you know is not connected to everyone in another group, but at least one or two people you know are connected by friendship or kinship to at least two or three other groups.

Those other groups can be small or they could be quite large.

And that grouping mimics the Internet, as well. your computers and mobile devices are not connected to every other device directly, but through networks. Your Internet service provider is its own network. If you have Verizon, Comcast or some other network, you are part of that web. If you are on campus, you are connected as part of the UIS.EDU network.

All of these networks are stitched loosely together into the Internet. The name stands for Interconnected Network of Networks.

Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon

Your friend group is your network. So, you might then ask yourself, what does this have to do with Kevin Bacon.

Simple. In 1994 magazine interview, Kevin Bacon mused that he had either worked with everyone in Hollywood or worked with someone who had. This was about the time that the “six degrees” hypothesis was gaining popularity.

Since Bacon is a prolific actor, his musings seemed plausible and people put it to the test. A fun parlor game sprung up riffing on the six degrees paradigm, called The Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon.

The game was created in early 1994 by three Albright College students, Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli. According to The Albright Reporter, they were watching Footloose during a  snowstorm and when the film was followed by The Air Up There, they began to speculate on how many movies Bacon had been in and the number of people he had worked with.

They invented the game by connecting actors to each other based on the actors they had worked with in other movies with the ultimate goal of finding an actor who had worked with Kevin Bacon in a movie.

In the early days of the Internet – before Google and other search engines – the game took off in starting on a Web page and following links until you landed on a page that mentioned Kevin Bacon. You didn’t have to go far.

The concept has extended to include what is called a “Bacon Number.” That is how many actors, or degrees, away from Kevin Bacon another actor is. Wikipedia explains this concept:

The Bacon number of an actor or actress is the number of degrees of separation he or she has from Bacon, as defined by the game. This is an application of the Erdős number concept to the Hollywood movie industry. The higher the Bacon number, the farther away from Kevin Bacon the actor is.

The computation of a Bacon number for actor X is a “shortest path” algorithm, applied to the co-stardom network:

  • Kevin Bacon has a Bacon number of 0.
  • Those actors who have worked directly with Kevin Bacon have a Bacon number of 1.
  • If the lowest Bacon number of any actor with whom X has appeared in any movie is N, X’s Bacon number is N+1.

Here is an example, using Elvis Presley:

Therefore, Asner has a Bacon number of 1, and Presley (who never appeared in a film with Bacon) has a Bacon number of 2.

So what about me; what’s my Bacon Number? Well, I’m not an actor, but I have a Bacon Number of 4.

See, my friend, Ken Seeber was an extra in the movie “Poor White Trash” with Sean Young (he shoots her a dirty look on the street!) Young was in the movie “Fire Birds” with Tommy Lee Jones. Tommy Lee Jones was in “JFK” with Kevin Bacon.


Written by digitalanalogues

June 12, 2014 at 4:06 PM

9 Responses

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  1. I was an extra in A League of Their Own, starring Tom Hanks. Tom Hanks was in Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon. But, since I never laid eyes on Tom Hanks, I don’t think that counts. I did get Madonna’s autograph while filming though so I’ll say 3 🙂

    Jen Q

    June 13, 2014 at 12:14 AM

    • when I was working at the Improv in Chicago Madonna and Rosie came in for on of the shows. (I did not work that night).


      June 13, 2014 at 8:01 AM

    • I’d say, by the rules of the game, you merit a 2. 🙂


      June 13, 2014 at 1:01 PM

  2. I lived next door to one of the original gals from the Woman’s league. Dotty Schroeder. I believe she played shortshop for all 12 years. Here is the link from Wikipedia.


    June 13, 2014 at 7:58 AM

    • Wow. Small world. The people we meet in life often have done amazing things before we meet them. Or afterward. When I was a reporter, the desk clerk I met every date at the Kane County Sheriff’s office had been the personal secretary to Preston Tucker.


      June 13, 2014 at 1:14 PM

      • Absolutely! I worked for a newspaper group in Southern Illinois and John Malkovich’s brother is (was?) one of the publishers, for Benton to be specific. Malkovich is actually from a tiny town in the area 🙂

        Jen Q

        June 14, 2014 at 4:07 PM

  3. Ha! Yep. That was Danny Malkovich. I worked for the Southern Illinoisan in 1993-94 before I moved to Wisconsin. Danny was a funny guy. I hear he died a few years ago. He was an editor then, but he’d attend the same meetings I would because he liked to personally ride herd on the area politicos. I lived in Benton and was the Franklin County bureau reporter.I had an office in my apartment. It was one really interesting year! I still remember stories he told about the local ne’er-do-wells that have me in stitches to this day.


    June 14, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    • Yes, you were smack dab in the middle of local ne’er-do-wells! My parents were both born in Harrisburg. My grandpa was mayor for years (probably when you were in the area actually). It’s exactly what you imagine when you think of “small town politics”! Boy, I’m glad to be out of there!
      Check out this website (if you haven’t already):
      These people have been a thorn in the side of politicians, police officers, other civil servants and prominent business owners in southern Illinois for years. They don’t hold back on anyone, are threatened by lawsuits every other day, and don’t really care. Unfortunately, they now charge a monthly fee to read the “good” stories 🙂

      Jen Q

      June 15, 2014 at 11:19 AM

  4. Prior to reading this, I had no idea what a Bacon number was.


    June 16, 2014 at 8:41 PM

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