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I always liked the following reason:

Let's call a topology on a space "admissible" if the evaluation function $e: Hom(X,Y) \times X \rightarrow Y$ is continuous. Then the compact-open topology is coarser than any other admissible topology. In particular, in any case where the compact-open topology is admissible, it is the smallest possible topology that does this.

EDIT: See comments for some references. I don't claim any originality here :)

1

I always liked the following reason:

Let's call a topology on a space "admissible" if the evaluation function $e: Hom(X,Y) \times X \rightarrow Y$ is continuous. Then the compact-open topology is coarser than any other admissible topology. In particular, in any case where the compact-open topology is admissible, it is the smallest possible topology that does this.