Overlapping Community Detection in Networks via Sparse Spectral Decomposition


We consider the problem of estimating overlapping community memberships in a network, where each node can belong to multiple communities. More than a few communities per node are difficult to both estimate and interpret, so we focus on sparse node membership vectors. Our algorithm is based on sparse principal subspace estimation with iterative thresholding. The method is computationally efficient, with computational cost equivalent to estimating the leading eigenvectors of the adjacency matrix, and does not require an additional clustering step, unlike spectral clustering methods. We show that a fixed point of the algorithm corresponds to correct node memberships under a version of the stochastic block model. The methods are evaluated empirically on simulated and real-world networks, showing good statistical performance and computational efficiency.

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This research was supported in part by NSF grants DMS-1521551 and DMS-1916222. The authors would like to thank Yuan Zhang for helpful discussions, and Advanced Research Computing at the University of Michigan for computational resources and services.

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Correspondence to Jesús Arroyo.

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Proof of Proposition 1.

Because V and \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}\) are two bases of the column space of P, and rank(P) = K, then \(\textbf {P}=\textbf {V}\textbf {U}^{\top }=\widetilde {\textbf {V}}\widetilde {\textbf {U}}^{\top }\) for some full rank matrices \(\textbf {U},\widetilde {\textbf {U}}\in \mathbb {R}^{n\times K}\) and therefore

$$ \textup{\textbf{V}}=\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}(\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{U}}}^{\top}\textup{\textbf{U}})({\textup{\textbf{U}}}^{\top}\textup{\textbf{U}})^{-1}. $$

Let \((\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {U}}}^{\top }\textup {\textbf {U}})({\textup {\textbf {U}}}^{\top }\textup {\textbf {U}})^{-1}=\boldsymbol {\Lambda }\). We will show that Λ = QD for a permutation matrix Q ∈{0,1}K×K and a diagonal matrix \(\textup {\textbf {D}}\in \mathbb {R}^{K\times K}\), or in other words, this is a generalized permutation matrix.

Let \(\boldsymbol {\theta },\widetilde {\boldsymbol {\theta }}\in \mathbb {R}^{n}\) and \(\textup {\textbf {Z}},\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {Z}}}\in \mathbb {R}^{n\times K}\) such that \(\boldsymbol {\theta }_{i} = \left ({\sum }_{k=1}^{K}\textup {\textbf {V}}_{ik}^{2}\right )^{1/2}\), \(\widetilde {\boldsymbol {\theta }}_{i} = \left ({\sum }_{k=1}^{K}\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}_{ik}^{2}\right )^{1/2}\), and Zik = Vik/𝜃i if 𝜃i > 0, and Zik = 0 otherwise (similarly for \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {Z}}}\)). Denote by \(\mathcal {S}_{1}=(i_{1},\ldots ,i_{K})\) to the vector of row indexes that satisfy \(\textup {\textbf {V}}_{i_{j}j}> 0\) and \(\textup {\textbf {V}}_{i_{j}j'}=0\) for jj, and j = 1,…,j (these indexes exist by assumption). In the same way, define \(\mathcal {S}_{2}=(i'_{1},\ldots ,i'_{K})\) such that \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}_{i^{\prime }_{j}j}> 0\) and \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}_{i_{j}j'}=0\) for jj. j = 1,…,j. Denote by \(\textup {\textbf {Z}}_{\mathcal {S}}\) to the K × K matrix formed by the rows indexed by \(\mathcal {S}\). Therefore

$$\textup{\textbf{Z}}_{\mathcal{S}_{1}}= \textup{\textbf{I}}_{K}=\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{Z}}}_{\mathcal{S}_{2}}.$$

Write \(\boldsymbol {\Theta } = \text {diag}(\boldsymbol {\theta })\in \mathbb {R}^{n\times n}\) and \(\widetilde {\boldsymbol {\Theta }} = \text {diag}(\widetilde {\boldsymbol {\theta }})\in \text {real}^{n\times n}\). From Eq. A.1 we have

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} (\boldsymbol{\Theta}\textup{\textbf{Z}})_{\mathcal{S}_{2}}= & (\widetilde{\boldsymbol{\Theta}}\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{Z}}})_{\mathcal{S}_{2}}\boldsymbol{\Lambda} =\widetilde{\boldsymbol{\Theta}}_{\mathcal{S}_{2}, \mathcal{S}_{2}} \widetilde{\textup{\textbf{Z}}}_{\mathcal{S}_{2}}\boldsymbol{\Lambda} = \widetilde{\boldsymbol{\Theta}}_{\mathcal{S}_{2}, \mathcal{S}_{2}}\boldsymbol{\Lambda}\ , \end{array} $$

where \({\Theta }_{\mathcal {S}, \mathcal {S}}\) is the submatrix of Θ formed by the rows and columns indexed by \(\mathcal {S}\). Thus,

$$\boldsymbol{\Lambda} = (\widetilde{\boldsymbol{\Theta}}_{\mathcal{S}_{2}, \mathcal{S}_{2}}^{-1}{\boldsymbol{\Theta}}_{\mathcal{S}_{2}, \mathcal{S}_{2}})\textup{\textbf{Z}}_{\mathcal{S}_{2}},$$

which implies that Λ is a non-negative matrix. Applying the same to the equation \((\boldsymbol {\Theta }\textbf {Z})_{\mathcal {S}_{1}}\boldsymbol {\Lambda }^{-1}= (\widetilde {\boldsymbol {\Theta }}\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {Z}}})_{\mathcal {S}_{1}}\), we have

$$\boldsymbol{\Lambda}^{-1} = ({\boldsymbol{\Theta}}_{\mathcal{S}_{1}, \mathcal{S}_{1}}^{-1}\widetilde{\boldsymbol{\Theta}}_{\mathcal{S}_{1}, \mathcal{S}_{1}})\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{Z}}}_{\mathcal{S}_{1}}.$$

Hence, both Λ and Λ− 1 are non-negative matrices, which implies that Λ is a positive generalized permutation matrix, so Λ = QD for some permutation matrix Q and a diagonal matrix D with diag(D) > 0. □

Proof of Proposition 2.

Let \(\boldsymbol {\theta }\in \mathbb {R}^{n}\) be a vector such that \({\boldsymbol {\theta }_{i}^{2}}={\sum }_{k=1}^{K}\boldsymbol {V}_{ik}^{2}\), and define \(\textup {\textbf {Z}}\in \mathbb {R}^{n\times K}\) such that \(\textbf {Z}_{ik}=\frac {1}{\theta _{i}}\textbf {V}_{ik}\), for each i ∈ [n],k ∈ [K]. Let B = (VV)− 1VTU. To show that B is symmetric, observe that VU = P = P = UV. Multiplying both sides by V and V,

$$\textup{\textbf{V}}^{\top} \textup{\textbf{V}} \textup{\textbf{U}}^{\top} \textup{\textbf{V}} = \textup{\textbf{V}}^{\top} \textup{\textbf{U}}\textup{\textbf{V}}^{\top} \textup{\textbf{V}},$$

and observing that (VV)− 1 exists since V is full rank, we have

$$ \textup{\textbf{U}}^{\top} \textup{\textbf{V}}(\textup{\textbf{V}}^{\top} \textup{\textbf{V}})^{-1} = (\textup{\textbf{V}}^{\top} \textup{\textbf{V}})^{-1}\textup{\textbf{V}}^{\top} \textup{\textbf{U}},$$

which implies that B = B. To obtain the equivalent representation for P, form a diagonal matrix Θ = diag(𝜃). Then ΘZ = V, and

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \boldsymbol{\Theta}\textup{\textbf{Z}}\textup{\textbf{B}}\textup{\textbf{Z}}^{\top} \boldsymbol{\Theta} \! =\! \textup{\textbf{V}}[(\textup{\textbf{V}}^{T}\textup{\textbf{V}})^{-1}\textup{\textbf{V}}^{T}\textup{\textbf{U}}]\textup{\textbf{V}}^{\top} = \textup{\textbf{V}}(\textup{\textbf{V}}^{T}\textup{\textbf{V}})^{-1}\textup{\textbf{V}}^{T}\textup{\textbf{V}}\textup{\textbf{U}}^{\top} = \textup{\textbf{V}}\textup{\textbf{U}}^{\top} = \textup{\textbf{P}}. \end{array} $$

Finally, under the conditions of Proposition 1, V uniquely determines the pattern of zeros of any non-negative eigenbasis of P, and therefore supp(V) = supp(ΘZQ) = supp(ZQ) for some permutation Q. □

Proof of Proposition 3.

Suppose that P = VU for some non-negative matrix V that satisfies the assumptions of Proposition 1. Let D ∈realK such that Di = ∥Vk2 and D = diag(D). Then \(\textbf {P} = \widetilde {\textbf {V}}\textbf {D}\textbf {U}^{\top }\). Let \(\textup {\textbf {V}}^{(0)} = \widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}\) be the initial value of Algorithm 1. Then, observe that

$$\textup{\textbf{T}}^{(1)} = \textup{\textbf{P}}\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}} = \widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}\textup{\textbf{D}}\textup{\textbf{U}}^{T}\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}},$$
$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \widetilde{\textup{\textbf{T}}}^{(1)} & = &\textup{\textbf{T}}^{(1)}\left[\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\textup{\textbf{T}}^{(1)}\right]^{-1}(\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{T}\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}})\\ & =& \widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}\textup{\textbf{D}} (\textup{\textbf{U}}^{T}\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}})\left( \textup{\textbf{U}}^{T}\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}\right)^{-1}\textup{\textbf{D}}^{-1}(\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}})^{-1}(\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}})\\ & = &\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{V}}}. \end{array} $$

Suppose that λ ∈ [0,v). Then, \(\lambda \max \limits _{j\in [K]}|\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}| <\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}_{ik}\) for all i ∈ [n],k ∈ [K] such that Vik > 0, and hence \(\textup {\textbf {U}}^{(1)}=\mathcal {S}(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}, \lambda ) = \widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}\). Finally, since \(\|\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}_{\cdot ,k}\|_{2}=1\) for all k ∈ [K], then \(\textup {\textbf {V}}^{(1)}=\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {V}}}\). □

Proof of Theorem 1.

The proof consists of a one-step fixed point

analysis of Algorithm 2. We will show that if Z(t) = Z, then Z(t+ 1) = Z with high probability. Let T = T(t+ 1) = AZ be value after the multiplication step. Define \(\textup {\textbf {C}}\in \mathbb {R}^{K\times K}\) to be the diagonal matrix with community sizes on the diagonal, Ckk = nk = ∥Z⋅,k1. Then \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {T}}}=\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {T}}}^{(t+1)}= \textup {\textbf {T}}\textup {\textbf {C}}^{-1}\). In order for the threshold to set the correct set of entries to zero, a sufficient condition is that in each row i the largest element of \(\widetilde {\boldsymbol {T}}_{i,\cdot }\) corresponds to the correct community. Define \(\mathcal {C}_{k}\subset [n]\) as the node subset corresponding to community k. Then,

$$ \widetilde{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ik} = \frac{1}{{n_{k}}} \textup{\textbf{A}}_{i,\cdot} \boldsymbol{Z}_{\cdot, k} = \frac{1}{{n_{k}}}\sum\limits_{j\in\mathcal{C}_{k}}\textup{\textbf{A}}_{ij}. $$

Therefore \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {T}}}_{ik}\) is a sum of independent and identically distributed Bernoulli random variables. Moreover, for each k1 and k2 in [K], \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {T}}}_{ik_{1}}\) and \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {T}}}_{ik_{2}}\) are independent of each other.

Given a value of λ ∈ (0,1), let

$$\mathcal{E}_{i}(\lambda)=\{ \lambda |\widetilde{\boldsymbol{T}}_{ik_{i}}|> |\widetilde{\boldsymbol{T}}_{ik_{j}}|, i\in\mathcal{C}_{k_{i}} \forall k_{j}\neq k_{i}\}$$

be the event that the largest entry of \(\widetilde {\textbf {T}}_{i\cdot }\) corresponds to ki, that is, the entry corresponding to the community of node i, and all the other indexes in that row are smaller in magnitude than \(\lambda |\widetilde {\textbf {T}}_{ik_{i}}|\). Let \(\textbf {U} = \textbf {U}^{(t+1)}=\mathcal {S}(\widetilde {\textbf {T}}^{(t+1)}, \lambda )\) be the matrix obtained after the thresholding step. Under the event \(\mathcal {E}(\lambda )=\bigcap _{i=1}^{n} \mathcal {E}_{i}(\lambda )\), we have that \(\|\textbf {U}_{i,\cdot }\|_{\infty } = \textbf {U}_{ik_{i}}\) for each i ∈ [n], and hence

$$\textup{\textbf{U}}_{ik}= \left\{\begin{array}{cl} \textup{\textbf{U}}_{ik_{i}} & \text{if }k=k_{i},\\ 0 & \text{otherwise.} \end{array}\right. $$

Therefore, under the event \(\mathcal {E}(\lambda )\), the thresholding step recovers the correct support, so Z(t+ 1) = Z.

Now we verify that under the conditions of Theorem 3.6, the event \(\mathcal {E}(\lambda )\) happens with high probability. By a union bound,

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \mathbb{P}(\mathcal{E}(\lambda)) \geq 1-\sum\limits_{i=1}^{n} \mathbb{P}(\mathcal{E}_{i}(\lambda)^{C}) \geq 1-\sum\limits_{i=1}^{n}\sum\limits_{j\neq k_{i}}\mathbb{P}(\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ij}>\lambda \widetilde{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ik_{i}}). \end{array} $$

For jki, \(\widetilde {\textup {\textbf {T}}}_{ij}-\lambda \widetilde {\textup {\textbf {T}}}_{ik_{i}}\) is a sum of independent random variables with expectation

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \mathbb{E}\left[\widetilde{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ij}-\lambda \widetilde{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ik_{i}}\right] = \frac{1}{n_{j}}\sum\limits_{j\in\mathcal{C}_{j}}\mathbb{E}[\boldsymbol{A}_{ij}] - \frac{\lambda}{n_{k_{i}}}\sum\limits_{j\in\mathcal{C}_{k_{i}}}\mathbb{E}[\textup{\textbf{A}}_{ij}]\\ = q - \lambda \frac{n_{k_{i}}-1}{n_{k_{i}}}p. \end{array} $$

By Hoeffding’s inequality, we have that for any \(\tau \in \mathbb {R}\),

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \mathbb{P}\left( \widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ij}-\lambda \widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ik_{i}} \geq \tau + \mathbb{E}\left[\widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ij} - \lambda \widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ik_{i}}\right] \right) & \leq& 2\exp\left( \frac{-2\tau^{2}}{\frac{1}{n_{j}} + \frac{\lambda^{2}}{n_{k_{i}}}}\right)\\ & \leq& 2\exp\left( - \frac{2n_{\min} \tau^{2}}{1+\lambda^{2}}\right) \\&\leq& 2\exp\left( -n_{\min} \tau^{2}\right), \end{array} $$

where \(n_{\min \limits } = \min \limits _{k\in [K]}n_{k}\). Setting

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \tau = -\mathbb{E}\left[\widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ij}- \lambda \widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ik_{i}}\right] \geq \lambda^{\ast} p - q - \frac{1}{n_{k_{i}}}p \end{array} $$

and using Eq. A.3 and 3.6, we obtain that for n sufficiently large,

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \mathbb{P}\left( \widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ij}>\lambda \widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ik_{i}} \right) & \leq& 2\exp\left( -n_{\min} \left( c_{1}\sqrt{\frac{\log(Kn)}{\min_{k}n_{k}}} -\frac{p}{n_{k}} \right)^{2} \right)\\ & \leq &2\exp\left( -n_{\min} \left( (c_{1}-1)\frac{\log(Kn)}{n_{\min}} \right) \right)= \frac{2}{(Kn)^{c_{1}-1}}. \end{array} $$

Combining with the bound (A.2), the probability of event \(\mathcal {E}(\lambda )\) (which implies that Z(t+ 1) = Z) is bounded from below as

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \mathbb{P}(\mathcal{E}(\lambda)) & \geq& 1- n(K-1)\min_{i\in[n], k\in[K]}\mathbb{P}\left( \widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ij}>\lambda \widehat{\textup{\textbf{T}}}_{ik_{i}} \right)\\ & \geq& 1-\frac{2(K-1)n}{(Kn)^{c_{1}-1}}\\ &\geq& 1- \frac{2}{Kn^{(c_{1} -2)}}. \end{array} $$

Therefore, with high probability Z is a fixed point of the Algorithm 2 for any λ ∈ (λ,1). □

Proof of Proposition 4.

Observe that

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \|\textup{\textbf{A}} -\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}\textup{\textbf{B}}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\|_{F}^{2} & = &\text{Tr}(\textup{\textbf{A}}^{\top}\textup{\textbf{A}}) - 2\text{Tr}(\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\textup{\textbf{A}}^{\top}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}\textup{\textbf{B}}) + \text{Tr}(\textbf{B}^{\top}\widehat{\textbf{V}}^{\top}\widehat{\textbf{V}}\textbf{B}\widehat{\textbf{V}}^{\top}\widehat{\textbf{V}})\\ & =& \|\textup{\textbf{B}} - (\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}})^{-1}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\textup{\textbf{A}}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}(\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}})^{-1}\|_{F}^{2} + C, \end{array} $$

where C is a constant that does not depend on B. Therefore \(\widehat {\textup {\textbf {B}}}\)

$$ \begin{array}{@{}rcl@{}} \widehat{\textup{\textbf{P}}} & = &\underset{\boldsymbol{B}\in\mathbb{R}^{K\times K}}{\arg\min}\|\textup{\textbf{A}} -\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}\textup{\textbf{B}}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\|_{F}^{2}\\ & = & \widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}(\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}})^{-1}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\textup{\textbf{A}}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}(\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}})^{-1}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}. \end{array} $$

Suppose that \(\widehat {\boldsymbol {V}} = \widehat {\boldsymbol {Q}}\widehat {\boldsymbol {R}}\) for some matrix Q with orthonormal columns of size n × K. Then, \(\widehat {\boldsymbol {R}}\) is a full rank matrix, and therefore

$$(\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}}^{\top}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{V}}})^{-1} = \widehat{\textup{\textbf{R}}}^{-1}(\widehat{\textup{\textbf{Q}}}^{\top}\widehat{\textup{\textbf{Q}}})^{-1}(\widehat{\textup{\textbf{R}}^{\top}})^{-1}.$$

Using this equation, we obtain the desired result. □

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Arroyo, J., Levina, E. Overlapping Community Detection in Networks via Sparse Spectral Decomposition. Sankhya A (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13171-021-00245-4

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  • Sparse principal component analysis
  • Stochastic blockmodel
  • Mixed memberships

AMS (2000) subject classification

  • Primary: 62H30
  • Secondary: 91C20
  • 68T10