A Categorization of Major Clustering Methods
Introduction: Many clustering algorithms exist in the literature. It is difficult to provide a crisp categorization of clustering methods because these categories may overlap, so that a method may have features from several categories. Nevertheless, it is useful to present a relatively organized picture of the different clustering methods.
In general, the major clustering methods can be classified into the following categories.
Partitioning methods: Given a database of n objects or data tuples, a partitioning method constructs k partitions of the data, where each partition represents a cluster and k ≤ n. That is, it classifies the data into k groups, which together satisfy the following requirements: (1) each group must contain at least one object, and (2) each object must belong to exactly one group. Notice that the second requirement can be relaxed in some fuzzy partitioning techniques. References to such techniques are given in the bibliographic notes.
Given k, the number of partitions to construct, a partitioning method creates an initial partitioning. It then uses an iterative relocation technique that attempts to improve the partitioning by moving objects from one group to another. The general criterion of a good partitioning is that objects in the same cluster are “close” or related to each other, whereas objects of different clusters are “far apart” or very different. There are various kinds of other criteria for judging the quality of partitions.
To achieve global optimality in partitioning-based clustering would require the exhaustive enumeration of all of the possible partitions. Instead, most applications adopt one of a few popular heuristic methods, such as (1) the k-means algorithm, where each cluster is represented by the mean value of the objects in the cluster, and (2) the k-medoids algorithm, where each cluster is represented by one of the objects located near the center of the cluster. These heuristic clustering methods work well for finding spherical-shaped clusters in small to medium-sized databases.
Hierarchical methods: A hierarchical method creates a hierarchical decomposition of the given set of data objects. A hierarchical method can be classified as being either agglomerative or divisive, based on how the hierarchical decomposition is formed. The agglomerative approach, also called the bottom-up approach, starts with each object forming a separate group. It successively merges the objects or groups that are close to one another, until all of the groups are merged into one (the topmost level of the hierarchy), or until a termination condition holds. The divisive approach, also called the top-down approach, starts with all of the objects in the same cluster. In each successive iteration, a cluster is split up into smaller clusters, until eventually each object is in one cluster, or until a termination condition holds.
Hierarchical methods suffer from the fact that once a step (merge or split) is done, it can never be undone. This rigidity is useful in that it leads to smaller computation costs by not having to worry about a combinatorial number of different choices. However, such techniques cannot correct erroneous decisions. There are two approaches to improving the quality of hierarchical clustering: (1) perform careful analysis of object “linkages” at each hierarchical partitioning, such as in Chameleon, or (2) integrate hierarchical agglomeration and other approaches by first using a hierarchical agglomerative algorithm to group objects into micro clusters, and then performing Macro clustering on the micro clusters using another clustering method such as iterative relocation, as in BIRCH.
Density-based methods: Most partitioning methods cluster objects based on the distance between objects. Such methods can find only spherical-shaped clusters and encounter difficulty at discovering clusters of arbitrary shapes. Other clustering methods have been developed based on the notion of density. Their general idea is to continue growing the given cluster as long as the density (number of objects or data points) in the “neighborhood” exceeds some threshold; that is, for each data point within a given cluster, the neighborhood of a given radius has to contain at least a minimum number of points. Such a method can be used to filter out noise (outliers) and discover clusters of arbitrary shape.
DBSCAN and its extension, OPTICS, are typical density-based methods that grow clusters according to a density-based connectivity analysis. DENCLUE is a method that clusters objects based on the analysis of the value distributions of density functions.
Grid-based methods: Grid-based methods quantize the object space into a finite number of cells that form a grid structure. All of the clustering operations are performed on the grid structure (i.e., on the quantized space). The main advantage of this approach is its fast processing time, which is typically independent of the number of data objects and dependent only on the number of cells in each dimension in the quantized space.