Beyond preferential attachment: Falling of stars and survival of superstars

Shahar Somin, Yaniv Altshuler, Alex Sandy Pentland, Erez Shmueli*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Numerous studies over the past decades established that real-world networks typically follow preferential attachment and detachment principles. Subsequently, this implies that degree fluctuations monotonically increase while rising up the 'degree ladder', causing high-degree nodes to be prone for attachment of new edges and for detachment of existing ones. Despite the extensive study of node degrees (absolute popularity), many domains consider node ranks (relative popularity) as of greater importance. This raises intriguing questions-what dynamics are expected to emerge when observing the ranking of network nodes over time? Does the ranking of nodes present similar monotonous patterns to the dynamics of their corresponding degrees? In this paper, we show that surprisingly the answer is not straightforward. By performing both theoretical and empirical analyses, we demonstrate that preferential principles do not apply to the temporal changes in node ranking. We show that the ranking dynamics follows a non-monotonous curve, suggesting an inherent partition of the nodes into qualitatively distinct stability categories. These findings provide plausible explanations to observed yet hitherto unexplained phenomena, such as how superstars fortify their ranks despite massive fluctuations in their degrees, and how stars are more prone to rank instability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number220899
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number8
StatePublished - 24 Aug 2022


  • Network dynamics
  • Network theory
  • Node ranking
  • Popularity dynamics


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