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Contagion, Tipping and Networks . Networked Life CSE 112 Spring 2004 Prof. Michael Kearns. Gladwell, page 7:

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contagion tipping and networks

Contagion, Tipping and Networks

Networked Life

CSE 112

Spring 2004

Prof. Michael Kearns


Gladwell, page 7:

“The Tipping Pointis the biography of the idea… that the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves, or the rise in teen smoking… is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do…”


some tipping examples
Some Tipping Examples
  • Hush Puppies:
    • almost dead in 1994; > 10x sales increase by ’96
    • no advertising or marketing budget
    • claim: “viral” fashion spread from NY teens to designers
    • must be certain connectivity and individuals
  • NYC Crime:
    • 1992: > 2K murders; < 770 five years later
    • standard socio-economic explanations:
      • police performance, decline of crack, improved economy, aging…
    • but these all changed incrementally
    • alternative: small forces provoked anti-crime “virus”
  • Technology tipping: fax machines, email, cell phones
  • “Tipping” origins: 1970’s “white flight”
key characteristics of tipping
Key Characteristics of Tipping
  • Contagion:
    • “viral” spread of disease, ideas, knowledge, etc.
    • spread is determined by network structure
    • network topology will influence outcomes
      • who gets “infected”, infection rate, number infected
  • Amplification of the incremental:
    • small changes can have large, dramatic effects
      • network topology, infectiousness, individual behavior
  • Sudden, not gradual change:
    • phase transitions and non-linear phenomena

Rates of Growth and Decay

crime rate

crime rate

crime rate

crime rate

size of police force

size of police force

size of police force

size of police force



nonlinear, tipping

nonlinear, gradual decay

three sources of tipping
Three Sources of Tipping
  • The Law of the Few (Messengers):
    • Connectors, Mavens and Salesman
    • Hubs and Authorities
  • The Stickiness Factor (Message):
    • The “infectiousness” of the “message” itself
  • The Power of Context:
    • global influences affecting messenger behavior
case study baltimore syphilis epidemic
Case Study: Baltimore Syphilis Epidemic
  • Mid-90’s: sudden increase in syphilis in Baltimore
  • Three plausible explanations:
    • increased crack usage  altered sexual behavior
      • an incremental change in overall context of behavior
    • diminished medical services  longer time to treatment
      • an incremental change in the stickiness of the disease
    • housing project demolition  migration of infected
      • an incremental change in connectivity (law of the few)
  • Any or all could be right
epidemos thanks to sangkyum kim
“Epidemos”[Thanks to Sangkyum Kim]
  • Forest fire simulation:
    • grid of forest and vacant cells
    • fire always spreads to adjacent four cells
      • “perfect” stickiness or infectiousness
    • connectivity parameter:
      • probability of forest
    • fire will spread to connected component of source
    • tip when forest ~ 0.6
    • clean mathematical formalization (e.g. fraction burned)
  • Viral spread simulation:
    • population on a grid network, each with four neighbors
    • stickiness parameter:
      • probability of passing disease
    • connectivity parameter:
      • probability of adding random (long-distance) connections
    • no long distance connections: tip at stickiness ~ 0.3
    • at rewiring = 0.5, often tip at stickiness ~ 0.2
some remarks on the demos
Some Remarks on the Demos
  • Connectivity patterns were either local or random
    • will eventually formalize this model
    • what about other/more realistic structure?
  • Tipping was inherently a statistical phenomenon
    • probabilistic nature of disease spread
    • probabilistic nature of connectivity patterns
    • model likely properties of a large set of possible outcomes
    • can model either inherent randomness or variability
  • Formalizing tipping in the forest fire demo:
    • might let grid size N  infinity, look at fixed values of p
    • is there a threshold value q:
      • p < q  expected fraction burned < 1/10
      • p > q  expected fraction burned > 9/10
small worlds and the law of the few
Small Worlds and the Law of the Few
  • Gladwell’s “Law of the Few”:
    • a “small” number of “highly” connected vertices ( heavy tails)
    • inordinate importance for global connectivity ( small diameter)
  • Travers & Milgram 1969: classic early social network study
    • destination: a Boston stockbroker; lived in Sharon, MA
    • sources: Nebraska stockbrokers; Nebraska and Boston “randoms”
    • forward letter to a first-name acquaintance “closer” to target
    • target information provided:
      • name, address, occupation, firm, college, wife’s name and hometown
      • navigational value?
  • Basic findings:
    • 64 of 296 chains reached the target
    • average length of completed chains: 5.2
      • interaction of chain length and navigational difficulties
    • main approach routes: home (6.1) and work (4.6)
    • Boston sources (4.4) faster than Nebraska (5.5)
    • no advantage for Nebraska stockbrokers
the connectors to the target
The Connectors to the Target
  • T & M found that many of the completed chains passed through a very small number of penultimate individuals
    • Mr. G, Sharon merchant: 16/64 chains
    • Mr. D and Mr. P: 10 and 5 chains
  • Connectors are individuals with extremely high degree
    • why should connectors exist?
    • how common are they?
    • how do they get that way? (see Gladwell for anecdotes)
  • Connectors can be viewed as the “hubs” of social traffic
  • Note: no reason target must be a connector for small worlds
  • Two ways of getting small worlds (low diameter):
    • truly random connection pattern  dense network
    • a small number of well-placed connectors in a sparse network
  • Let’s revisit our Gladwell estimate of class connectivity and MK’s NW
small worlds a modern experiment
Small Worlds: A Modern Experiment
  • The Columbia Small Worlds Project:
    • considerably larger subject pool, uses email
    • subject of Dodds et al. assigned paper
  • Basic methodology:
    • 18 targets from 13 countries
    • on-line registration of initial participants, all tracking electronic
    • 99K registered, 24K initiated chains, 384 reached targets
  • Some findings:
    • < 5% of messages through any penultimate individual
    • large “friend degree” rarely (< 10%) cited
    • Dodds et al:  no evidence of connectors!
      • (but could be that connectors are not cited for this reason…)
    • interesting analysis of causes for attrition
    • interesting analysis of navigation method vs. chain length
the strength of weak ties
The Strength of Weak Ties
  • Not all links are of equal importance
  • Granovetter 1974: study of job searches
    • 56% found current job via a personal connection
    • of these, 16.7% saw their contact “often”
    • the rest saw their contact “occasionally” or “rarely”
  • Your “closest” contacts might not be the most useful
    • similar backgrounds and experience
    • they may not know much more than you do
    • connectors derive power from a large fraction of weak ties
  • Further evidence in Dodds et al. paper
  • T&M, Granovetter, Gladwell: multiple “spaces” & “distances”
    • geographic, professional, social, recreational, political,…
    • We can reason about general principles without precise measurement
quantifying connectors
Quantifying Connectors
  • What does it mean to have “high” degree?
    • is it relative to others, or absolute?
    • how many connectors should we expect to see?
    • how is it related to overall network size?
  • Are connectors a good thing?
    • information spread vs. disease spread
    • robustness vs. vulnerability
  • Is being a connector enough?
    • “second order” structure and beyond
  • We’ll get to all this, and more
mavens and salesmen
Mavens and Salesmen
  • Connectors will be present in every network we study
  • Mavens and Salesmen:
    • more particular to human social networks
    • Mavens:
      • voracious gatherers of information and expertise
    • Salesmen:
      • persuasive individual personalities
      • induce others to adopt ideas, products, fashions, etc.
  • A hypothetical Gladwellian scenario:
    • a fashion maven “discovers” Hush Puppies
    • their hip persuader friend begins wearing them too
    • which are then seen by the persuader’s connector friend
    • which causes Hush Puppies to tip
    • connector was not the source of the idea, persuader did not cause the “broadcast”, maven did not persuade, etc.
  • Generalizes the notion of infectiousness
  • A common marketing term
  • How likely is the idea, fashion, etc. to be transmitted?
  • Can also view as the “failure probability” of a link
  • Some examples:
    • “Winston tastes good…”
    • Columbia Record Club Gold Box
    • Sesame Street and Blues Clues
  • In modern times, stickiness may trump raw exposure
  • Persuasion (messenger) and stickiness (message) related
  • Making technology sticky:
    • “The Media Equation”, by Nass and Reeves
    • human reaction to technology design and interface
the power of context
The Power of Context
  • Transmission on a network (social or otherwise) can be modulated by subtle changes in global influences
    • heat waves: crime, the power grid, and Amtrak
  • Broken Windows and the NYC squeegee crackdown
  • Gladwell: “…the premise that an epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment.”
  • Human behavior strongly and subtly influenced by context
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment
  • The Good Samaritans of Princeton
the magic number 150
The Magic Number 150
  • Social channel capacity
    • correlation between neocortex size and group size
    • Dunbar’s equation: neocortex ratio  group size
  • Clear implications for many kinds of social networks
  • Again, a topological constraint on typical degree
  • From primates to military units to Gore-Tex
Next up: let’s make some of these ideas more precise
    • graph theory: the mathematical language of networks
    • social network theory