Towards Property-Based Classification of Clustering Paradigms

Part of Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems 23 (NIPS 2010)

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Margareta Ackerman, Shai Ben-David, David Loker


Clustering is a basic data mining task with a wide variety of applications. Not surprisingly, there exist many clustering algorithms. However, clustering is an ill defined problem - given a data set, it is not clear what a “correct” clustering for that set is. Indeed, different algorithms may yield dramatically different outputs for the same input sets. Faced with a concrete clustering task, a user needs to choose an appropriate clustering algorithm. Currently, such decisions are often made in a very ad hoc, if not completely random, manner. Given the crucial effect of the choice of a clustering algorithm on the resulting clustering, this state of affairs is truly regrettable. In this paper we address the major research challenge of developing tools for helping users make more informed decisions when they come to pick a clustering tool for their data. This is, of course, a very ambitious endeavor, and in this paper, we make some first steps towards this goal. We propose to address this problem by distilling abstract properties of the input-output behavior of different clustering paradigms. In this paper, we demonstrate how abstract, intuitive properties of clustering functions can be used to taxonomize a set of popular clustering algorithmic paradigms. On top of addressing deterministic clustering algorithms, we also propose similar properties for randomized algorithms and use them to highlight functional differences between different common implementations of k-means clustering. We also study relationships between the properties, independent of any particular algorithm. In particular, we strengthen Kleinbergs famous impossibility result, while providing a simpler proof.