Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2022-11-09, 15:58 authored by Meng LiuMeng Liu

Graph diffusion is the process of spreading information from one or few nodes to the rest of the graph through edges. The resulting distribution of the information often implies latent structure of the graph where nodes more densely connected can receive more signal. This makes graph diffusions a powerful tool for local clustering, which is the problem of finding a cluster or community of nodes around a given set of seeds. Most existing literatures on using graph diffusions for local graph clustering are linear diffusions as their dynamics can be fully interpreted through linear systems. They are also referred as eigenvector, spectral, or random walk based methods. While efficient, they often have difficulty capturing the correct boundary of a target label or target cluster. On the contrast, maxflow-mincut based methods that can be thought as 1-norm nonlinear variants of the linear diffusions seek to "improve'' or "refine'' a given cluster and can often capture the boundary correctly. However, there is a lack of literature to adopt them for problems such as community detection, local graph clustering, semi-supervised learning, etc. due to the complexity of their formulation. We addressed these issues by performing extensive numerical experiments to demonstrate the performance of flow-based methods in graphs from various sources. We also developed an efficient LocalGraphClustering Python Package that allows others to easily use these methods in their own problems. While studying these flow-based methods, we find that they cannot grow from small seed set. Although there are hybrid procedures that incorporate ideas from both linear diffusions and flow-based methods, they have many hard to set parameters. To tackle these issues, we propose a simple generalization of the objective function behind linear diffusion and flow-based methods which we call generalized local graph min-cut problem. We further show that by involving p-norm in this cut problem, we can develop a nonlinear diffusion procedure that can find local clusters from small seed set and capture the correct boundary simultaneously. Our method can be thought as a nonlinear generalization of the Anderson-Chung-Lang push procedure to approximate a personalized PageRank vector efficiently and is a strongly local algorithm-one whose runtime depends on the size of the output rather than the size of the graph. We also show that the p-norm cut functions improve on the standard Cheeger inequalities for linear diffusion methods. We further extend our generalized local graph min-cut problem and the corresponding diffusion solver to hypergraph-based machine learning problems. Although many methods for local graph clustering exist, there are relatively few for localized clustering in hypergraphs. Moreover, those that exist often lack flexibility to model a general class of hypergraph cut functions or cannot scale to large problems. Our new hypergraph diffusion method on the other hand enables us to compute with a wide variety of cardinality-based hypergraph cut functions and still maintains the strongly local property. We also show that the clusters found by solving the new objective function satisfy a Cheeger-like quality guarantee.

Besides clustering, recent work on graph-based learning often focuses on node embeddings and graph neural networks. Although these GNN based methods can beat traditional ones especially when node attributes data is available, it is challenging to understand them because they are highly over-parameterized. To solve this issue, we propose a novel framework that combines topological data analysis and diffusion to transform the complex prediction space into human understandable pictures. The method can be applied to other datasets not in graph formats and scales up to large datasets across different domains and enable us to find many useful insights about the data and the model.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Computer Science

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

David F. Gleich

Additional Committee Member 2

Petros Drineas

Additional Committee Member 3

Ananth Y. Grama

Additional Committee Member 4

Tamal K. Dey