Open Access Regular article

Link creation and information spreading over social and communication ties in an interest-based online social network

Luca Maria Aiello1*, Alain Barrat23, Ciro Cattuto3, Rossano Schifanella1 and Giancarlo Ruffo1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Computer Science, University of Torino, Torino, Italy

2 Centre de Physique Théorique, Aix-Marseille Université et Université du Sud Toulon Var, CNRS UMR 6207, Marseille, France

3 Data Science Laboratory, ISI Foundation, Torino, Italy

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EPJ Data Science 2012, 1:12  doi:10.1140/epjds12

Published: 5 December 2012

Abstract

Complex dynamics of social media emerge from the interaction between the patterns of social connectivity of users and the information exchanged along such social ties. Unveiling the underlying mechanisms that drive the evolution of online social systems requires a deep understanding of the interplay between these two aspects. Based on the case of the aNobii social network, an online service for book readers, we investigate the dynamics of link creation and the social influence phenomenon that may trigger information diffusion in the social graph. By confirming that social partner selection is strongly driven by structural, geographical, and topical proximity, we develop a machine-learning social link recommender for individual users trained on a set of features selected as best predictive out of several and we test it on the still widely unexplored domain of a network of interest. We also analyze the influence process from the two distinct perspectives of users and items. We show that link creation plays an immediate effect on the alignment of user profiles and that the established social ties are a good substrate for social influence. We quantitatively measure influence by tracking the patterns of diffusion of specific pieces of information and comparing them with appropriate null models. We discover an appreciable signal of social influence even though item consumption is a very slow process in this context. All the detected patterns of social attachment and influence are observed to be stronger when considering the social subgraph on which communication effectively occurs. Based on our study of the dynamics of the aNobii social network, we investigate the possibility to predict the evolution of such a complex social system.