A Comparative Study for Unsupervised Network Representation Learning

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19 Citations (Scopus)


There has been significant progress in unsupervised network representation learning (UNRL) approaches over graphs recently with flexible random-walk approaches, new optimization objectives, and deep architectures. However, there is no common ground for systematic comparison of embeddings to understand their behavior for different graphs and tasks. We argue that most of the UNRL approaches either model and exploit neighborhood or what we call context information of a node. These methods largely differ in their definitions and exploitation of context. Consequently, we propose a framework that casts a variety of approaches-random walk based, matrix factorization and deep learning based-into a unified context-based optimization function. We systematically group the methods based on their similarities and differences. We study their differences which we later use to explain their performance differences (on downstream tasks). We conduct a large-scale empirical study considering nine popular and recent UNRL techniques and 11 real-world datasets with varying structural properties and two common tasks-node classification and link prediction. We find that for non-attributed graphs there is no single method that is a clear winner and that the choice of a suitable method is dictated by certain properties of the embedding methods, task and structural properties of the underlying graph. In addition, we also report the common pitfalls in evaluation of UNRL methods and come up with suggestions for experimental design and interpretation of results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1807-1818
Number of pages12
JournalIEEE Transactions on Knowledge and Data Engineering
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Task analysis
  • Deep learning
  • Linear programming
  • Context modeling
  • Optimization
  • Systematics
  • Social networking (online)


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