Lab 3: Clustering Methods

Key Word(s): Clustering, Hierarchical Clustering, K-Means, PCA

Example background

This week we will look at selected data from Trump's infamous twitter account. In particular, people are curious to know which tweets are authored by the candidate himself, and which are authored by his staff.

Since the Trump campaign did not provide this information, Trump's twitter data is a good example of an unsupervised learning task. We don't know who authored each tweet, so there is no way to check our predictions to see how well we've done.

Nevertheless, we can make some headway on this question by examining any clusters that appear in the twitter data.

We will limit our field to tweets that occured in 2017.

Example data

Twitter provides a public API that can be used to retrieve tweets and the associated meta-data. Using this API Brendan Brown has been collecting and archiving Trump's twitter feed, and making the data available on github at

Downloading and extracting

Our first step is to download and extract the data.

## download.file("",
##              "")

The data is provided in JSON format. There are a couple of different JSON readers available in R; I prefer the jsonlite package.

## install.packages("jsonlite")
tweets <- fromJSON("./condensed_2017.json")

Data cleanup

As is typically the case, the twitter data is not in the most convenient format. The next step is to clean up and format the data in a more useful way.

Since not all the tweets originated with Trump's account we'll delete any retweets.

## just trump tweets
tweets <- tweets[!tweets$is_retweet, ]

Next we'll want to parse the date/time information and store it in meaningful units.

## convert timestamp to R date/time
## install.packages("lubridate")
tweets$date <- mdy_hms(paste(gsub("^[A-z]+ | \\d+:\\d+:\\d+ \\+0000|", "",
                             gsub("^.* (\\d+:\\d+:\\d+) .*$",

tweets$day <- yday(tweets$date)
tweets$weekday <- wday(tweets$date)
tweets$time <- hour(tweets$date) + minute(tweets$date)/60

We could do content analysis of the words in the tweets themselves, but a simpler approach is to pull out twitter-specific data from the content of the tweets. Specifically, we want to count the number of hashtags, mentions, and links.

tweets$hashes <- nchar(gsub("[^#]", "", tweets$text))
tweets$mentions <- nchar(gsub("[^@]", "", tweets$text))
tweets$link <- grepl("https*://", tweets$text)

Finally, the source of the tweet is another potentially useful variable. Most of the tweets come from an Android phone or and iPhone, with a handful coming from other sources. For convenience we'll combine devices that were used for a small proportion of the posts.


tweets[!tweets$source %in% c("Twitter for Android",
                             "Twitter for iPhone",
                             "Twitter Web Client"), ]$source <- "Other"

tweets$source <- factor(tweets$source)


Clustering in R

Base R includes functions useful for cluster analysis, including dist for calculating distances, kmeans for k-means clustering, and hclust for hierarchical clustering.

Many other clustering tools are available in contributed R packages. In fact there is a whole task view devoted to packages for cluster analysis, available at Of these, the cluster, mclust, NbClust, and factoextra packages are of particular interest.

The cluster package provides implementations of additional distance measures, as well as additional hierarchical and partitioning cluster algorithms. The mclust package provides implementations of model-based clustering algorithms. The NbClust package provides an a large number of methods for choosing the number of clusters. Finally the factoextra package provides convenient plotting for a wide range of clustering methods.

I will walk you through an example dataset and you will work on tackling the trump data set. The data set I will be using is from the package cluster.datasets which is full of useful toy datasets for clustering, that come from real world problems. The data us.civil.war.battles contains the Union and Confederate forces and numbers shot. Though there are some battles that are well known to be major and decisive, many others were more ambiuous. Let's see if we can any interesting information from this table of deployments and casualties.


#Seperate the names for later

Looking for clusters visually

Visualizing Distance Matrix The function fviz_dist funciton in the factoextra package allows you to visualize a distance matrix. A distance matrix compares two data points through a numerical distance value (e.g. euclidean). The daisy function in the cluster packages allows you to easily calculate several types of distances. In fviz_dist the observations are somewhat sorted so that you are able to dillineate different groups within the observations.


#takes about 2 mins....

Principle Component Analysis (PCA)

Remember, PCA is useful in finding a low-dimensional representation of a numerical data set.

Visualizing multidimensional data as a whole is extremely difficult to do since a plot can show only two or three dimensions without getting too complicated. PCA gives us an easier way to visualize multidimensional data. The components are a vector representation in which each component holds information about all of the data. Therefore, by plotting the first two components we should be able to see some variability in the data points across all the factors.

This is particularly useful in clustering. We may start to see clusters form by simply looking at the first two components. The function autoplot in the ggfority package gives us an easy way to plot these components.

# ggfority no longer on CRAN install using commands below


  ggtitle('First 2 PCs of Civil War Data')

Your turn: Visualize clusters in Trump's numerical Twitter data

Using the numerical data from our tweet data set, let's see if we can visually distinguish any clusters. Later we will learn how to addres including categorical data in our clustering. The code snippet here will help you extrac the numerical data.

num.vars <- c("retweet_count", "favorite_count", "day", "weekday",
              "time", "hashes", "mentions")
  1. Calculate a distance matrix using euclidean distances for Trump's numerical Twitter data. Visualize this using the fviz_dist function (this takes a couple mins). How many clusters do you see?

  1. Implement PCA on the numerical Twitter data. Visualize this using autoplot. How many clusters do you see?

  1. It is important to realize how much information we are reatining by looking at the first two PCs. Calculate the percent of variation we keep using the first two PCs. What does this mean?

Clustering Algorithms

Here we wil be implementing some of the algorithms discussed in class.

Partitioning Clustering

This type of clustering uses an iterative algorithm to find the center of the cluster as well as assign points to their respective cluser.

K-means :

fviz_cluster(cw.kmeans,data=civilWar,main='K-Means Clustering K=3')


fviz_cluster(cw.pam,data=civilWar,main='K-Mediods Clustering K=3')

Hierarchical Clustering

Here we create a tree such that branches represent similar observations. To create clusters out of this tree, we find an optimal spot to cut the branches then those on the same branch will be of the same cluster.


pltree(cw.agnes, cex=0.5,
       main='Aggl. fit of Civil War Data',
       xlab='CW Battle',sub='')


pltree(cw.diana, cex=0.5,
       main='Div. fit of Civil War Data',
       xlab='CW Battle',sub='')

Linkages The linkage is the metric used in deciding wheter to split or merge clusters. Choosing the type of linkage you use can vary your results.

Some downfalls to consider:

Other linkages not covered in class include:

Soft Clustering

This is useful if we want to calculate a probability of an observation being in each cluster, rather than a discrete assignment. An easy way to get absolute cluster assignments is to chooose the cluster that has the highest probabity per observation.

The two methods discussed in class are Fuzzy Clustering and Model Based Clustering . Fuzzy clustering is implemented in R using the function fanny and model based clustering uses Mclust.

For fuzzy clustering you must choose a value for memb.exp that is strictly greater than one. If memb.exp is too low the clusters will be too seperated and membership in a cluster will be of probability 1. If it is too high cluster membership will resemble random assignments and therefore are uninformative.


The Mclust has many variables that allow you to implemement the EM algorithm in many ways (such as including a prior or model used.) For now you do not have to worry about these. You must specify the variable $G$ if you want a specific number of clusters.


Including categorical features

This data set contains both numerical and categorical factors. If we wish to use categorical features we'll need to switch to the gower measure of distance, implemented in the daisy function (from the cluster package).

We are able to fviz_dist do visualize the distance matrix.

cl.vars <- c("retweet_count","favorite_count", "source", "day", "weekday", "time", "hashes", "mentions", "link")<-tweets[cl.vars] <- daisy(,
                     metric = "gower",stand=T)
fviz_dist( #takes ~ 2 mins to run

We might wish to use multidimensional scaling as another way of visually inspecting the data for clusters.

tweets.mds <- data.frame(,cmdscale(

       mapping = aes(x = X1,
                     y = X2)) +

In almost all of the clustering methods below, the data matrix can be substituted with a distance matrix. The functions for kmeans method and model based clustering are not compatible with categorical data (It's not straightforward to take an "average" of categorical data)

Interpreting the clusters

The outcome of clustering is not as concrete as, for example, classification or regression models. There is no correct answer. The first step is to justify the steps you took to build these clusters. The second step is to interperate these clusters. Good questions to ask:

Let's look at the kmeans model of the Civil War Battles. This wikipedia article will come in handy for the interpretation:

fviz_cluster(cw.kmeans,data=civilWar,main='K-Means Clustering K=3')

First let's see if there is a difference in the number of forces within the battles of the three groups.



library(gridExtra) cw.investigate.df<-data.frame(civilWar,cluster=factor(cw.kmeans$cluster))

Union Forces

p.uf<-ggplot(aes(y=union.forces,x=cluster,col=cluster),data=cw.investigate.df)+ geom_boxplot()+ ggtitle('Union Forces v. Cluster')

Confederate Forces<-ggplot(aes(y=confederate.forces,x=cluster,col=cluster),data=cw.investigate.df)+ geom_boxplot()+ ggtitle('Confederate Forces v. Cluster')


We suspect the number of people shot will correlate heavily with the number of forces with so let's transform the information and see if it tells a different story.

# Ratio of Union/Confederate Forces
  scale_y_log10() +
  ggtitle('Union/Confederate Forces v. Cluster')

# Ratio of Union/ Confederate Shot

  scale_y_log10() +
  ggtitle('Union/Confederate Shot v. Cluster')

# Ratio of Union shot / Union forces

  ggtitle('Union Shot/Forces v. Cluster')

# Ratio of Confederate shot / Confederate forces

  ggtitle('Confederate Shot/Forces v. Cluster')


Using the wikipedia article, let's see if our hypothesis about the<-read.csv('civilWar_wiki.csv',header=T)

mosaicplot($class~cw.kmeans$cluster, shade=T, main='Class v. Cluster')

mosaicplot($victor~cw.kmeans$cluster, shade=T,main='Victor v. Cluster')

Your turn: Apply clustering methods to Trump's Twitter data

For now let's assume there are 2 clusters since our hypothesis is that there are two sources of tweets. Next lab we will learn how to choose the optimal number of clusters.

REMINDER: Since our variables span across many units of measurment and scales we will want to center and scale our data before clustering.

  1. Implement and visualize two different methods of clustering (partition, hierarchical, fuzzy, model based) for either just the numerical data or the categorical and numerical data combined (this is a little trickier). Explain why you chose each of the particular clustering methods.

NOTE: If you are struggling on choosing do the PAM method and the Agglomerateive Clustering with the "ward" method for the numerical data.


Method 1

Method 2

2.  Choose one of your methods from part 1. Compare the variables in each cluster (this is best done visually, but you can use `summary` as well.)

Revisit the variable `source`. Do you think that the tweets that come from an andriod phone are different than those that do not? Why are why not? (Hint: Check out `mosaicplot`)

  1. Do you think 2 clusters is a good assumption for the number of clusters?