Friday, September 16, 2011

WikiFace Numbers

Actors have Bacon numbers, the number of steps you need to trace through fellow cast members until you get to Kevin Bacon. Kevin Bacon himself has a Bacon number of 0. Anyone who has been in a film with him has a number of 1. Anyone in a film with anyone who has a Bacon number of 1, has a Bacon number of 2. And so on.

Mathematicians have Erdos numbers, similarly, the number of co-authors you need to trace through until you get to Paul Erdos. The American Mathematical Society has anErdos calculator. It is a lot of fun to play with, although it is not entirely accurate (it gives me an Erdos number of 6 when, I will have you know, it is, in fact, 4, thank you very much).

But these measures are restricted to actors and mathematicians or intellectually promiscuous philosophers who like to write with mathematicians. There should be a similar concept that is more broadly applicable that traces the interconnectedness of us all to those whom we celebrate as being of particular cultural significance.

Our means of denoting that an individual is someone of note in our society is that he or she has a Wikipedia page dedicated to him or her. The standard of social connectedness is the "Facebook friend" relation. Hence, the expanded notion of the Bacon number, the Erdos number, or even the Bacon/Erdos number (the sum of the two), would be the WikiFace number. If you have a Wikipedia page dedicated to you, your WikiFace number is 0. If you are Facebook friends with someone who has a Wikipedia page dedicated to him/her, your WikiFace number is 1. And so on...

The questions then are (1) what is your WikiFace number? and more interestingly, (2) what do you think is the mean WikiFace number? What is the number such that if we selected a person at random, the odds would be 50/50 that s/he would be above or below the number? How connected are we to those to whom we afford special cultural status?