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Journal Article

Clustering on the Unit Hypersphere using von Mises-Fisher Distributions


Sra,  S
Department Empirical Inference, Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics, Max Planck Society;

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Banerjee, A., Dhillon I, Ghosh, J., & Sra, S. (2005). Clustering on the Unit Hypersphere using von Mises-Fisher Distributions. Journal of Machine Learning Research, 6, 1345-1382. Retrieved from

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Several large scale data mining applications, such as text categorization and gene expression analysis, involve high-dimensional data that is also inherently directional in nature. Often such data is L2 normalized so that it lies on the surface of a unit hypersphere. Popular models such as (mixtures of) multi-variate Gaussians are inadequate for characterizing such data. This paper proposes a generative mixture-model approach to clustering directional data based on the von Mises-Fisher (vMF) distribution, which arises naturally for data distributed on the unit hypersphere. In particular, we derive and analyze two variants of the Expectation Maximization (EM) framework for estimating the mean and concentration parameters of this mixture. Numerical estimation of the concentration parameters is non-trivial in high dimensions since it involves functional inversion of ratios of Bessel functions. We also formulate two clustering algorithms corresponding to the variants of EM that we derive. Our approach provides a theoretical basis for the use of cosine similarity that has been widely employed by the information retrieval community, and obtains the spherical kmeans algorithm (kmeans with cosine similarity) as a special case of both variants. Empirical results on clustering of high-dimensional text and gene-expression data based on a mixture of vMF distributions show that the ability to estimate the concentration parameter for each vMF component, which is not present in existing approaches, yields superior results, especially for difficult clustering tasks in high-dimensional spaces.