ergophobe - 6:55 pm on Sep 14, 2012 (gmt 0)
Obviously, they felt that this was really cool.
I would say, rather, they thought this was *easy* - a place to start, play, experiment and demonstrate, a place to test an algorithm because it's relatively easy to find corroboration of results, a place to play because the universe of actors is small (relatively) and their connections few (relatively) so the computing horsepower needed is not that great.
Personally, I think the long-term effect of pursuing this - tweaked algo, more CPUs, vastly larger datasets - is that we start seeing not parlor games transferred to the net like a mere computer solitaire, but questions answered that were hitherto unanswerable or extremely difficult to answer.
I could see two possibilities.
#1 - this is like natural language processing - a problem that AI people thought they would have cracked in a couple of decades but the data set is so large, varied and unfiltered that no matter how much we throw at the problem, we remain a long ways from a computer that understands. That said, I am impressed by the progress we've made over the last thirty years and the efforts at the progress have had a significant impact on our lives.
#2 - this is like chess - a problem that chess fans thought a computer couldn't crack for a very long time, perhaps not ever, but which ultimately has simple rules and a "small" data set (massive compared to connections to Kevin Bacon, small compared to permutations in natural language). Computer solitaire with "hints" and "cheats" was easy to build, but ultimately it's just a variation of a chess routine that can beat a grand master. And while I suppose we've learned a lot about computing from this, I'm not sure how much I've seen it spill over into our lives.
It may or may not be Google that does this, but once information becomes truly linked and a computer can discover new information (i.e. separation from Bacon based on a database of movie titles and actors names, but in vastly more complex data sets), the ability to get answers to questions that could barely even be asked is huge.
For some types of questions, it changes everything and the Baconator is to this what the 200 kilopixel camera was to digital photography - a toy of little value to anyone who cares about photography... but a game changer too.