Clustering: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding Distance Measures and Algorithms
Have you ever wondered how companies like Netflix and Amazon suggest new content or products they think you’ll enjoy? One of the most important technologies behind this functionality is clustering.
Clustering algorithms are a powerful machine learning technique used to group similar objects together in a dataset. In this article, we’ll explore the basics of clustering, the various distance measures used in clustering, and one of the most popular clustering algorithms – kmeans.
Distance Measures
In clustering, distance measures are used to determine the similarity between two objects. The most common distance measures used are:

Euclidean distance
This is the most commonly used distance measure. It is the straightline distance between two points in a Euclidean space.

Manhattan distance
Also known as the L1norm distance, this method calculates the distance between two vectors by taking the sum of the absolute differences of the corresponding components.

Jaccard distance
This distance measure is used for comparing the dissimilarity between sets.
It is calculated by dividing the size of the intersection of two sets by the size of the union.

Minkowski distance
This method is a generalization of Euclidean and Manhattan distance. It calculates the distance between two points in a space with any number of dimensions.
Clustering Algorithms
In clustering, there are two primary types of algorithms – Kmeans clustering and Hierarchical clustering.

Kmeans clustering
This algorithm divides a dataset into k clusters, where each cluster represents a group of objects that are similar to each other. The algorithm first selects k initial points, known as centroids, that represent the center of the clusters within the dataset.
Next, the algorithm assigns each object to the cluster with the nearest centroid based on the distance measure selected. The algorithm then recalculates the position of each centroid as the mean of all the objects in the cluster, and the process is repeated until convergence.

Hierarchical clustering
This algorithm builds a hierarchy of clusters by starting with each object as its own cluster and then iteratively merging objects or clusters based on the similarity between them.
This process continues until all objects have been merged into a single cluster.
Kmeans Clustering Algorithm
Kmeans clustering is one of the most popular and widely used clustering algorithms. It is commonly used in data mining and machine learning applications to identify groups or segments within a dataset.
Let’s explore the basics of how the kmeans algorithm works.
Working of Kmeans
The kmeans algorithm begins by randomly selecting k centroids from the dataset. Each data point in the dataset is then assigned to the closest centroid based on the chosen distance measure.
All data points assigned to a particular centroid form a cluster, which is represented by that centroid. The algorithm then updates the centroid of each cluster by calculating the mean of all the data points in that cluster.
This process is repeated until the centroids no longer move significantly.
Exploring the KMeans Class
To aid in the kmeans algorithm’s implementation in Python, the Sklearn library provides a KMeans class with the following parameters:

n_clusters
the number of clusters to form.

init
the method used to select the initial centroids.

n_init
the number of times the algorithm will run with different centroid seeds.

max_iter
the maximum number of iterations to run the algorithm.

tol
the tolerance used to check for convergence.

verbose
the level of information printed during the iteration process.

random_state
used for generating random numbers.

copy_x
a boolean that determines whether or not the original data should be copied.

algorithm
the algorithm used to calculate the centroids.
Implementation in Python
To use the Scikitlearn implementation of the kmeans algorithm, you need to import the KMeans class and instantiate it with the parameters mentioned above. Once instantiated, you can fit the model with the dataset using the fit() method, which computes the clusters’ centroids.
The predict() method can then be used to predict which cluster a new data point belongs to. Finally, you can visualize the clusters using a scatter plot.
Conclusion
Clustering algorithms are an important machine learning technique used to identify and group similar data points. Distance measures are used to calculate similarities between data points, and the kmeans algorithm is one of the most popular and widely used clustering algorithms.
By selecting k centroids and assigning data points to the cluster with the nearest centroid, the algorithm identifies groups within a dataset. The Scikitlearn library simplifies the implementation of kmeans clustering in Python, allowing researchers and developers to effectively analyze and make sense of large datasets.
Hierarchical Clustering: Understanding Agglomerative Clustering
In our previous article, we discussed clustering – a powerful machine learning technique used to group similar data objects together in a dataset. In this article, we will delve into hierarchical clustering, a clustering algorithm that groups data objects based on the similarity between them.
Specifically, we will focus on agglomerative clustering, which is the most common type of hierarchical clustering algorithm.
Agglomerative Clustering
Agglomerative clustering is a bottomup approach in which each data object starts as its own cluster and is then gradually merged with other objects or clusters based on their similarities. As a result, the algorithm forms a hierarchical structure of clusters, known as a dendrogram, which shows how the data objects are grouped together.
In agglomerative clustering, there are three types of linkage commonly used to measure the similarity between two clusters – single linkage, complete linkage, and average linkage.

Single linkage
This method considers the distance between the two closest points in the two clusters.

Complete linkage
This method considers the distance between the two furthest points in the two clusters.

Average linkage
This method considers the average distance between all pairs of points in the two clusters.
Working of Agglomerative Clustering
The agglomerative clustering algorithm works as follows:

First, every data point is assigned to its own cluster.

Next, the algorithm calculates the pairwise distances between the clusters using the chosen linkage method.

The two clusters with the smallest distance are then merged to form a new cluster.

The process of calculating pairwise distances and merging clusters is repeated until only one cluster remains.
Exploring the Agglomerative Clustering Class
The Scikitlearn library provides the AgglomerativeClustering class for implementing agglomerative clustering in Python.
The following are the main parameters of the class:

n_clusters
the number of clusters to form.

linkage
the type of linkage to use.

affinity
the distance metric to use.

compute_full_tree
whether or not to compute and store the full dendrogram.

metric
the distance metric to use.

memory
the maximum size of the memory cache.

connectivity
an optional connectivity matrix.
Advantages of Clustering
Clustering is a powerful unsupervised learning technique that allows you to group together data objects based on similarities without requiring any prior knowledge of the data. It is used in a wide variety of industries, including marketing, finance, biology, and computer science, to name just a few.
One of the main advantages of clustering is its ability to group similar objects together, making it easier to understand large datasets and extract meaningful insights from them. Clustering also helps in data preprocessing, which involves cleaning and preparing data for further analysis.
Moreover, clustering is useful in identifying patterns and anomalies in data, which can be used to make informed decisions and predictions. In summary, clustering is a powerful technique that provides great value in various datadriven applications.
Conclusion
In conclusion, agglomerative clustering is a popular hierarchical clustering algorithm used to group data objects based on their similarities. It works by gradually merging clusters until all objects are in the same cluster.
Scikitlearn provides the AgglomerativeClustering class to make it easier to implement agglomerative clustering in Python. Clustering is a valuable technique in unsupervised learning, as it assists in understanding and analyzing large datasets, identifying patterns, and making predictions.
In this article, we explored clustering – a powerful machine learning technique used to group similar data objects together in a dataset. Specifically, we focused on two clustering algorithms – kmeans and agglomerative clustering – that help in analyzing large datasets and extracting meaningful insights from them.
We discussed the distance measures, such as Euclidean distance, Manhattan distance, Jaccard distance, and Minkowski distance, and their importance in clustering. We also learned about the advantages of clustering, including its ability to group similar objects together, identify patterns, and assist in making predictions.
By understanding clustering techniques and their applications, researchers and developers can uncover key insights from data and gain a competitive edge in various industries.