Given a social network, which of its nodes are more central? This question has been asked many times in sociology, psychology and computer science, and a whole plethora of centrality measures (a.k.a. centrality indices, or rankings) were proposed to account for the importance of the nodes of a network. In this paper, we try to provide a mathematically sound survey of the most important classic centrality measures known from the literature and propose an axiomatic approach to establish whether they are actually doing what they have been designed for. Our axioms suggest some simple, basic properties that a centrality measure should exhibit. Surprisingly, only a new simple measure based on distances, harmonic centrality, turns out to satisfy all axioms; essentially, harmonic centrality is a correction to Bavelas's classic closeness centrality designed to take unreachable nodes into account in a natural way. As a sanity check, we examine in turn each measure under the lens of information retrieval, leveraging state-of-the-art knowledge in the discipline to measure the effectiveness of the various indices in locating web pages that are relevant to a query. While there are some examples of this comparisons in the literature, here for the first time we take into consideration centrality measures based on distances, such as closeness, in an information-retrieval setting. The results match closely the data we gathered using our axiomatic approach. Our results suggest that centrality measures based on distances, which have been neglected in information retrieval in favour of spectral centrality measures in the last years, are actually of very high quality; moreover, harmonic centrality pops up as an excellent general-purpose centrality index for arbitrary directed graphs.
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