Group Formation in Large Social Networks:
Membership, Growth, and Evolution

Lars Backstrom


Monday  Sept. 18, 2006

4:00 PM, 5130 Upson Hall



Abstract: The processes by which communities come together, attract new members, and develop over time is a central research issue in the social sciences --- political movements, professional organizations, and religious denominations all provide fundamental examples of such communities. In the digital domain, on-line groups are becoming increasingly prominent due to the growth of community and social networking sites such as MySpace and LiveJournal. However, the challenge of collecting and analyzing large-scale time-resolved data on social groups and communities has left most basic questions about the evolution of such groups largely unresolved: what are the structural features that influence whether individuals will join communities, which communities will grow rapidly, and how do the overlaps among pairs of communities change over time?

Here we address these questions using two large sources of data: friendship links and community membership on LiveJournal, and co-authorship and conference publications in DBLP. Both of these datasets provide explicit user-defined communities, where conferences serve as proxies for communities in DBLP. We study how the evolution of these communities relates to properties such as the structure of the underlying social networks. We find that the propensity of individuals to join communities, and of communities to grow rapidly, depends in subtle ways on the underlying network structure. For example, the tendency of an individual to join a community is influenced not just by the number of friends he or she has within the community, but also crucially by how those friends are connected to one another. We use decision-tree techniques to identify the most significant structural determinants of these properties. We also develop a novel methodology for measuring movement of individuals between communities, and show how such movements are closely aligned with changes in the topics of interest within the communities.