Propagation of contagion through networks is a fundamental process. It is used to model the spread of information, influence, or a viral infection. Diffusion patterns can be specified by a probabilistic model, such as Independent Cascade (IC), or captured by a set of representative traces.

Basic computational problems in the study of diffusion are influence queries (determining the potency of a specified seed set of nodes) and Influence Maximization (identifying the most influential seed set of a given size). Answering each influence query involves many edge traversals, and does not scale when there are many queries on very large graphs. The gold standard for Influence Maximization is the greedy algorithm, which iteratively adds to the seed set a node maximizing the marginal gain in influence. Greedy has a guaranteed approximation ratio of at least (1−1/e) and actually produces a sequence of nodes, with each prefix having approximation guarantee with respect to the same-size optimum. Since Greedy does not scale well beyond a few million edges, for larger inputs one must currently use either heuristics or alternative algorithms designed for a pre-specified small seed set size.

We develop a novel sketch-based design for influence computation. Our greedy Sketch-based Influence Maximization (SKIM) algorithm scales to graphs with billions of edges, with one to two orders of magnitude speedup over the best greedy methods. It still has a guaranteed approximation ratio, and in practice its quality nearly matches that of exact greedy. We also present influence oracles, which use linear-time preprocessing to generate a small sketch for each node, allowing the influence of any seed set to be quickly answered from the sketches of its nodes.