Beyond Globally Optimal: Focused Learning for Improved Recommendations

Alex Beutel
Hubert Pham
John Anderson
Proceedings of the 26th International Conference on World Wide Web, WWW 2017, Perth, Australia, April 3-7, 2017
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When building a recommender system, how can we ensure that all items are modeled well? Classically, recommender systems are built, optimized, and tuned to improve a global prediction objective, such as root mean squared error. However, as we demonstrate, these recommender systems often leave many items badly-modeled and thus under-served. Further, we give both empirical and theoretical evidence that no single matrix factorization, under current state-of-the-art methods, gives optimal results for each item. As a result, we ask: how can we learn additional models to improve the recommendation quality for a specified subset of items? We offer a new technique called focused learning, based on hyperparameter optimization and a customized matrix factorization objective. Applying focused learning on top of weighted matrix factorization, factorization machines, and LLORMA, we demonstrate prediction accuracy improvements on multiple datasets. For instance, on MovieLens we achieve as much as a 17% improvement in prediction accuracy for niche movies, cold-start items, and even the most badly-modeled items in the original model.