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Requirements for Cluster Analysis


2 May 2015

Requirements for Cluster Analysis

Clustering is a challenging research field. In this section, you will learn about the requirements for clustering as a data mining tool, as well as aspects that can be used for comparing clustering methods. The following are typical requirements of clustering in data mining.

  • Scalability: Many clustering algorithms work well on small data sets containing fewer than several hundred data objects; however, a large database may contain millions or even billions of objects, particularly in Web search scenarios. Clustering on only a sample of a given large data set may lead to biased results. Therefore, highly scalable clustering algorithms are needed.

  • Ability to deal with different types of attributes: Many algorithms are designed to cluster numeric (interval-based) data. However, applications may require clustering other data types, such as binary, nominal (categorical), and ordinal data, or mixtures of these data types. Recently, more and more applications need clustering techniques for complex data types such as graphs, sequences, images, and documents.

  • Discovery of clusters with arbitrary shape: Many clustering algorithms determine clusters based on Euclidean or Manhattan distance measures (Chapter 2). Algorithms based on such distance measures tend to find spherical clusters with similar size and density. However, a cluster could be of any shape. Consider sensors, for example, which are often deployed for environment surveillance. Cluster analysis on sensor readings can detect interesting phenomena. We may want to use clustering to find the frontier of a running forest fire, which is often not spherical. It is important to develop algorithms that can detect clusters of arbitrary shape.

  • Requirements for domain knowledge to determine input parameters: Many clustering algorithms require users to provide domain knowledge in the form of input parameters such as the desired number of clusters. Consequently, the clustering results may be sensitive to such parameters. Parameters are often hard to determine, especially for high- dimensionality data sets and where users have yet to grasp a deep understanding of their data. Requiring the specification of domain knowledge not only burdens users, but also makes the quality of clustering difficult to control.

  • Ability to deal with noisy data: Most real-world data sets contain outliers and/or missing, unknown, or erroneous data. Sensor readings, for example, are often noisy—some readings may be inaccurate due to the sensing mechanisms, and some readings may be erroneous due to interferences from surrounding transient objects. Clustering algorithms can be sensitive to such noise and may produce poor-quality clusters. Therefore, we need clustering methods that are robust to noise.

  • Incremental clustering and insensitivity to input order: In many applications, incremental updates (representing newer data) may arrive at any time. Some clustering algorithms cannot incorporate incremental updates into existing clustering structures and, instead, have to recompute a new clustering from scratch. Clustering algorithms may also be sensitive to the input data order. That is, given a set of data objects, clustering algorithms may return dramatically different clusterings depending on the order in which the objects are presented. Incremental clustering algorithms and algorithms that are insensitive to the input order are needed.

  • Capability of clustering high-dimensionality data: A data set can contain numerous dimensions or attributes. When clustering documents, for example, each keyword can be regarded as a dimension, and there are often thousands of keywords. Most clustering algorithms are good at handling low-dimensional data such as data sets involving only two or three dimensions. Finding clusters of data objects in a high-dimensional space is challenging, especially considering that such data can be very sparse and highly skewed.

  • Constraint-based clustering: Real-world applications may need to perform clustering under various kinds of constraints. Suppose that your job is to choose the locations for a given number of new automatic teller machines (ATMs) in a city. To decide upon this, you may cluster households while considering constraints such as the city’s rivers and highway networks and the types and number of customers per cluster. A challenging task is to find data groups with good clustering behavior that satisfy specified constraints.

  • Interpretability and usability: Users want clustering results to be interpretable, comprehensible, and usable. That is, clustering may need to be tied in with specific semantic interpretations and applications. It is important to study how an application goal may influence the selection of clustering features and clustering methods.

The following are orthogonal aspects with which clustering methods can be compared:

  • The partitioning criteria: In some methods, all the objects are partitioned so that no hierarchy exists among the clusters. That is, all the clusters are at the same level conceptually. Such a method is useful, for example, for partitioning customers into groups so that each group has its own manager. Alternatively, other methods partition data objects hierarchically, where clusters can be formed at different semantic levels. For example, in text mining, we may want to organize a corpus of documents into multiple general topics, such as “politics” and “sports,” each of which may have subtopics, For instance, “football,” “basketball,” “baseball,” and “hockey” can exist as subtopics of “sports.” The latter four subtopics are at a lower level in the hierarchy than “sports.”

  • Separation of clusters: Some methods partition data objects into mutually exclusive clusters. When clustering customers into groups so that each group is taken care of by one manager, each customer may belong to only one group. In some other situations, the clusters may not be exclusive, that is, a data object may belong to more than one cluster. For example, when clustering documents into topics, a document may be related to multiple topics. Thus, the topics as clusters may not be exclusive.

  • Similarity measure: Some methods determine the similarity between two objects by the distance between them. Such a distance can be defined on Euclidean space, a road network, a vector space, or any other space. In other methods, the similarity may be defined by connectivity based on density or contiguity, and may not rely on the absolute distance between two objects. Similarity measures play a fundamental role in the design of clustering methods. While distance-based methods can often take advantage of optimization techniques, density- and continuity-based methods can often find clusters of arbitrary shape.

  • Clustering space: Many clustering methods search for clusters within the entire given data space. These methods are useful for low-dimensionality data sets. With high- dimensional data, however, there can be many irrelevant attributes, which can make similarity measurements unreliable. Consequently, clusters found in the full space are often meaningless. It’s often better to instead search for clusters within different subspaces of the same data set. Subspace clustering discovers clusters and subspaces (often of low dimensionality) that manifest object similarity.

To conclude, clustering algorithms have several requirements. These factors include scalability and the ability to deal with different types of attributes, noisy data, incremental updates, clusters of arbitrary shape, and constraints. Interpretability and usability are also important. In addition, clustering methods can differ with respect to the partitioning level, whether or not clusters are mutually exclusive, the similarity measures used, and whether or not subspace clustering is performed.

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