Significant Termsedit

The significant_terms (SigTerms) aggregation is rather different from the rest of the aggregations. All the aggregations we have seen so far are essentially simple math operations. By combining the various building blocks, you can build sophisticated aggregations and reports about your data.

significant_terms has a different agenda. To some, it may even look a bit like machine learning. The significant_terms aggregation finds uncommonly common terms in your data-set.

What do we mean by uncommonly common? These are terms that are statistically unusual — data that appears more frequently than the background rate would suggest. These statistical anomalies are usually indicative of something interesting in your data.

For example, imagine you are in charge of detecting and tracking down credit card fraud. Customers call and complain about unusual transactions appearing on their credit card — their account has been compromised. These transactions are just symptoms of a larger problem. Somewhere in the recent past, a merchant has either knowingly stolen the customers' credit card information, or has unknowingly been compromised themselves.

Your job is to find the common point of compromise. If you have 100 customers complaining of unusual transactions, those customers likely share a single merchant—and it is this merchant that is likely the source of blame.

Of course, it is a little more nuanced than just finding a merchant that all customers share. For example, many of the customers will have large merchants like Amazon in their recent transaction history. We can rule out Amazon, however, since many uncompromised credit cards also have Amazon as a recent merchant.

This is an example of a commonly common merchant. Everyone, whether compromised or not, shares the merchant. This makes it of little interest to us.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have tiny merchants such as the corner drug store. These are commonly uncommon—only one or two customers have transactions from the merchant. We can rule these out as well. Since all of the compromised cards did not interact with the merchant, we can be sure it was not to blame for the security breach.

What we want are uncommonly common merchants. These are merchants that every compromised card shares, but that are not well represented in the background noise of uncompromised cards. These merchants are statistical anomalies; they appear more frequently than they should. It is highly likely that these uncommonly common merchants are to blame.

significant_terms aggregation does just this. It analyzes your data and finds terms that appear with a frequency that is statistically anomalous compared to the background data.

What you do with this statistical anomaly depends on the data. With the credit card data, you might be looking for fraud. With ecommerce, you might be looking for an unidentified demographic so you can market to them more efficiently. If you are analyzing logs, you might find one server that throws a certain type of error more often than it should. The applications of significant_terms is nearly endless.