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Generative Probabilistic Models for Analysis of Communication Event Data with Applications to Email Behavior


Our daily lives increasingly involve interactions with others via different communication channels, such as email, text messaging, and social media. In this context, the ability to analyze and understand our communication patterns is becoming increasingly important. This dissertation focuses on generative probabilistic models for describing different characteristics of communication behavior, focusing primarily on email communication.

First, we present a two-parameter kernel density estimator for estimating the probability density over recipients of an email (or, more generally, items which appear in an itemset). A stochastic gradient method is proposed for efficiently inferring the kernel parameters given a continuous stream of data. Next, we apply the kernel model and the Bernoulli mixture model to two important prediction tasks: given a partially completed email recipient list, 1) predict which others will be included in the email, and 2) rank potential recipients based on their likelihood to be added to the email. Such predictions are useful in suggesting future actions to the user (i.e. which person to add to an email) based on their previous actions. We then investigate a piecewise-constant Poisson process model for describing the time-varying communication rate between an individual and several groups of their contacts, where changes in the Poisson rate are modeled as latent state changes within a hidden Markov model.

We next focus on the time it takes for an individual to respond to an event, such as receiving an email. We show that this response time depends heavily on the individual's typical daily and weekly patterns - patterns not adequately captured in standard models of response time (e.g. the Gamma distribution or Hawkes processes). A time-warping mechanism is introduced where the absolute response time is modeled as a transformation of effective response time, relative to the daily and weekly patterns of the individual. The usefulness of applying the time-warping mechanism to standard models of response time, both in terms of log-likelihood and accuracy in predicting which events will be quickly responded to, is illustrated over several individual email histories.

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