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Determining the Number of Clusters

Finding the `right' number of clusters $ k$ for a data-set is a difficult and often ill-posed problem, since even for the same data-set, there can be several answers depending on the scale or granularity one is interested in. In probabilistic approaches to clustering, likelihood-ratios, Bayesian techniques and Monte Carlo cross-validation are popular. In non-probabilistic methods, a regularization approach, which penalizes for large $ k$, is often adopted. If the data is labelled, then mutual information between cluster and class labels can be used to determine the number of clusters. Other metrics such as purity of clusters or entropy are of less use as they are biased towards a larger number of clusters (see chapter 4). For transactional data, often the number is specified by the end-user to be typically between 7 and 14 [BL97]. Otherwise, one can employ a suitable heuristic to obtain an appropriate value of $ k$ during the clustering process. This subsection describes how we find a desirable clustering, with high overall cluster quality $ \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})}$ and a small number of clusters $ k$. Our objective is to maximize intra-cluster similarity and minimize inter-cluster similarity, given by $ \mathrm{intra}(\mathbf{X},\mathbf{\lambda},i) = \frac{2}{(n_i-1)
\cdot n_i}
\sum_{\lambda_a = \lambda_b = i, b>a} s(\mathbf{x}_a,\mathbf{x}_b)$ and $ \mathrm{inter} (\mathbf{X},\mathbf{\lambda},i,j) = \frac{1}{n_i \cdot n_j} \sum_{\lambda_a = i, \lambda_b = j} s(\mathbf{x}_a,\mathbf{x}_b)$, respectively, where $ i$ and $ j$ are cluster indices. Note that intra-cluster similarity is undefined (0/0) for singleton clusters. Hence, we define our quality measure $ \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})} \in [0,
1]$ ( $ \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})} < 0$ in case of pathological / inverse clustering) based on the ratio of weighted average inter-cluster to weighted average intra-cluster similarity:

$\displaystyle \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})} (\mathbf{X}, \mathbf{\lambda}) = 1 - \frac {...
...,j)} {\sum_{i=1}^{k} n_i \cdot \mathrm{intra} (\mathbf{X},\mathbf{\lambda},i)}$ (3.5)

$ \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})} = 0$ indicates that samples within the same cluster are on average not more similar than samples from different clusters. On the contrary, $ \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})} = 1$ describes a clustering where every pair of samples from different clusters has the similarity of 0 and at least one sample pair from the same cluster has a non-zero similarity. Note that our definition of quality does not take the `amount of balance' into account, since balancing is already observed fairly strictly by the constraints in the graph partitioning step. To achieve a high quality $ \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})}$ as well as a low $ k$, the target function $ \phi^{(\mathrm{T})} \in [0,1]$ is the product of the quality $ \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})}$ and a penalty term which works very well in practice. If $ n \geq 4$ and $ 2 \leq k \leq \lfloor n/2 \rfloor $, then there exists at least one clustering with no singleton clusters. The penalized quality gives the penalized quality $ \phi^{(\mathrm{T})}$ and is defined as $ \phi^{(\mathrm{T})} (k) = \left( 1 -
\frac{2k}{n} \right) \cdot \phi^{(\mathrm{Q})}(k)$. A modest linear penalty was chosen, since our quality criterion does not necessarily improve with increasing $ k$ (unlike e.g. the squared error criterion). For large $ n$, we search for the optimal $ k$ in the entire window from $ 2 \leq k \leq 100$. In many cases, however, a forward search starting at $ k=2$ and stopping at the first down-tick of penalized quality while increasing $ k$ is sufficient. Finally, a practical alternative, as exemplified by the experimental results later, is to first over-cluster and then use the visualization aid to combine clusters as needed (subsection 3.5.2).
next up previous contents
Next: CLUSION: Cluster Visualization Up: OPOSSUM Previous: Vertex Weighted Graph Partitioning   Contents
Alexander Strehl 2002-05-03