José Luis Iribarren and Esteban Moro
Social Networks 33, 134-142 (2011) [pdf]
Widespread interest in the diffusion of information through social networks has produced a large number of Social Dynamics models. A majority of them use theoretical hypothesis to explain their diffusion mechanisms while the few empirically based ones average out their measures over many messages of different contents. Our empirical research tracking the step-by-step email propagation of an invariable viral marketing message delves into the content impact and has discovered new and striking features. The topology and dynamics of the propagation cascades display patterns not inherited from the email networks carrying the message. Their disconnected, low transitivity, tree-like cascades present positive correlation between their nodes probability to forward the message and the average number of neighbors they target and show increased participants’ involvement as the propagation paths length grows. Such patterns not described before, nor replicated by any of the existing models of information diffusion, can be explained if participants make their pass-along decisions based uniquely on local knowledge of their network neighbors affinity with the message content. We prove the plausibility of such mechanism through a stylized, agent-based model that replicates the Affinity Paths observed in real information diffusion cascades.