Clustering Sparse Graphs

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 25 (NIPS 2012)

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Yudong Chen, Sujay Sanghavi, Huan Xu


We develop a new algorithm to cluster sparse unweighted graphs -- i.e. partition the nodes into disjoint clusters so that there is higher density within clusters, and low across clusters. By sparsity we mean the setting where both the in-cluster and across cluster edge densities are very small, possibly vanishing in the size of the graph. Sparsity makes the problem noisier, and hence more difficult to solve. Any clustering involves a tradeoff between minimizing two kinds of errors: missing edges within clusters and present edges across clusters. Our insight is that in the sparse case, these must be {\em penalized differently}. We analyze our algorithm's performance on the natural, classical and widely studied ``planted partition'' model (also called the stochastic block model); we show that our algorithm can cluster sparser graphs, and with smaller clusters, than all previous methods. This is seen empirically as well.