Network Inference and Influence Maximization from Samples

Wei Chen, Xiaoming Sun, Jialin Zhang, Zhijie Zhang

Influence maximization is the task of selecting a small number of seed nodes in a social network to maximize the spread of the influence from these seeds, and it has been widely investigated in the past two decades. In the canonical setting, the whole social network as well as its diffusion parameters is given as input. In this paper, we consider the more realistic sampling setting where the network is unknown and we only have a set of passively observed cascades that record the set of activated nodes at each diffusion step. We study the task of influence maximization from these cascade samples (IMS), and present constant approximation algorithms for this task under mild conditions on the seed set distribution. To achieve the optimization goal, we also provide a novel solution to the network inference problem, that is, learning diffusion parameters and the network structure from the cascade data. Comparing with prior solutions, our network inference algorithm requires weaker assumptions and does not rely on maximum-likelihood estimation and convex programming. Our IMS algorithms enhance the learning-and-then-optimization approach by allowing a constant approximation ratio even when the diffusion parameters are hard to learn, and we do not need any assumption related to the network structure or diffusion parameters.

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