Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

My Bacon Number

Posted by shannonclark on July 1, 2004

or as well, the power of small ties

I just looked up my “Bacon Number” at the Oracle of Bacon – specifically I looked up the Bacon number of many people who were in the one major movie I have been in, Visa Versa.

I kept going until I found one who had a Kevin Bacon number of 2 because of having been in Visa Versa with Mike Bacarella.

It turns out that Mr. Bacarella, who was a “Limo Driver” in Visa Versa, was “Traffic Cop #1” in the Kevin Bacon movie, Stir of Echoes.

Thus, I, who was an extra in Visa Versa, have a Kevin Bacon number of 2, as well because of Mr. Bacarella.

More generally, however, this is an illustration of the power of connections that are not the “obvious” one – not the ones that first come to mind, but the “regular folks”. I had first assumed that the quickest path for me would have been via the stars of Visa Versa, either Judge Rheinhold or Fred Savage. Instead, it was a “bit” actor in a small role that was, in fact, the quickest and shortest route.

In the “real world” we often focus on our connections at a very high level, who we know at a given company who has a very high position, who we know who has some degree of “fame” etc. Instead, I suspect, when looking for the “fastest route” we should try to discover the loose connections between people with whom we only have small ties, not big ones (i.e. treating fame/reputation as part of the strength of a connection/recognition.)

What also intrigues me is that there is quite clearly multiple levels of networks that exist within even a fairly simple, though easily documented, network of “actors in movies”. Namely, while there is a “well known” path – stars to other stars, there is a much larger and vaster, as well as highly tied together, network of the “bit” players to each other. It appears, at least on my casual poking around, that this second network is both larger and “closer” – that is people have smaller paths (in this case to Kevin Bacon) – that the network of “big name stars”.

In part this may be that these smaller bit players fairly frequently are in many more movies over the course of a career than the starts – as a result they have a much larger 1 degree network than people who spend more time with a given movie (the stars).

In business, this may be akin to a difference between the possible networks of someone who has a career that includes working (either directly or as a consultant etc) for many firms vs. individuals who rise up within the ranks of a single or just a few firms.

Business people do have other ways of “forming ties” – professional organizations, business networking groups, health clubs, country clubs, golf courses, business schools, etc. But the basic lesson, that the network of people, perhaps, who are at the top may not be as “short” as the network of people who are lower down.

That said, it may not be the case that “shortest distance” is the best metric to use when navigating networks. Rather some means of judging potential for success should be attempted. Consider business – as a consultant I have worked within dozens of firms, however my connection to the individuals at many of those firms is very different than someone who worked there for many years, and different again from someone who knows the leaders of those organizations. In a few cases, however, my connections are to the people at the very top, the ones who make decisions, in those cases my recommendation could very well be stronger than that of most ex-employees.

The challenge is how do you estimate the strenght of such networks? As well, how can you explore a network and estimate the likelyhood of success of a given need making through the chain of your connections.

Consider a movie related challenge:

– Casting a movie. I have a movie that I want to cast. If, for example, I already had Kevin Bacon signed to the movie, I might find that people who had worked with him directly would be a first set of people I reach out – though I would want to know if that interaction was positive or negative.

Next, I might want to reach out to people 2 degrees away – whom I might be able to reach via someone who had directly worked with Kevin before. To do that I might start with people who had a positive experience with Kevin, then look at their networks (non-overlapping with Kevin’s) and see who they had positive relationships and then look through those for potential casting.

However, another approach might be to start with someone who we really want in the movie. Starting from that person, we might then look over their network – the “shortest path” might not, however be a path that also only involved very good, positive relationships between each of the people in the path. In short a path to success.

More on this later… and see MeshForum for other discussions on this and more Network topics.

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