Ashton Anderson, Daniel Huttenlocker, Jon Kleinberg, Jure Leskovec and Mitul Tiwari
In the 24th International World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2015)
Many of the world’s most popular websites catalyze their growth through invitations from existing members. New members can then in turn issue invitations, and so on, creating cascades of member signups that can spread on a global scale. Although these diffusive invitation processes are critical to the popularity and growth of many websites, they have rarely been studied, and their properties remain elusive. For instance, it is not known how viral these cascades structures are, how cascades grow over time, or how diffusive growth affects the resulting distribution of member characteristics present on the site. In this paper, we study the diffusion of LinkedIn, an online professional network comprising over 332 million members, a large fraction of whom joined the site as part of a signup cascade. First we analyze the structural patterns of these signup cascades, and find them to be qualitatively different from previously studied information diffusion cascades. We also examine how signup cascades grow over time, and observe that diffusion via invitations on LinkedIn occurs over much longer timescales than are typically associated with other types of online diffusion. Finally, we connect the cascade structures with rich individual-level attribute data to investigate the interplay between the two. Using novel techniques to study the role of homophily in diffusion, we find striking differences between the local, edge-wise homophily and the global, cascade-level homophily we observe in our data, suggesting that signup cascades form surprisingly coherent groups of members.