The theory of structural holes  suggests that individuals would benefit from filling the “holes ” (called as structural hole spanners) between people or groups that are otherwise disconnected. A few empirical studies have verified that structural hole spanners play a key role in the information diffusion. However, there is still lack of a principled methodology to detect structural hole spanners from a given social network. In this work, we precisely define the problem of mining top-k structural hole spanners in large-scale social networks and provide an objective (quality) function to formalize the problem. Two instantiation models have been developed to implement the objective function. For the first model, we present an exact algorithm to solve it and prove its convergence. As for the second model, the optimization is proved to be NP-hard, and we design an efficient algorithm with provable approximation guarantees. We test the proposed models on three different networks: Coauthor, Twitter, and Inventor. Our study provides evidence for the theory of structural holes, e.g., 1 % of Twitter users who span structural holes control 25 % of the information diffusion on Twitter. We compare the proposed models with several alternative methods and the results show that our models clearly outperform the comparison methods. Our experiments also demonstrate that the detected structural hole spanners can help other social network applications, such as community kernel detection and link prediction. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first attempt to address the problem of mining structural hole spanners in large social networks
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