Metric-agnostic Ranking Optimization

Qingyao Ai
SIGIR 2023 (to appear)


Ranking is at the core of Information Retrieval. Classic ranking optimization studies often treat ranking as a sorting problem with the assumption that the best performance of ranking would be achieved if we rank items according to their individual utility. Accordingly, considerable ranking metrics have been developed and learning-to-rank algorithms that have been designed to optimize these simple performance metrics have been widely used in modern IR systems. As applications evolve, however, people's need for information retrieval have shifted from simply retrieving relevant documents to more advanced information services that satisfy their complex working and entertainment needs. Thus, more complicated and user-centric objectives such as user satisfaction and engagement have been adopted to evaluate modern IR systems today. Those objectives, unfortunately, are difficult to be optimized under existing learning-to-rank frameworks as they are subject to great variance and complicated structures that cannot be explicitly explained or formulated with math equations like those simple performance metrics. This leads to the following research question -- how to optimize result ranking for complex ranking metrics without knowing their internal structures? To address this question, we conduct formal analysis on the limitation of existing ranking optimization techniques and describe three research tasks in Metric-agnostic Ranking Optimization: (1) develop surrogate metric models to simulate complex online ranking metrics on offline data; (2) develop differentiable ranking optimization frameworks for list or session level performance metrics without fine-grained supervision signals; and (3) develop efficient parameter exploration and exploitation techniques for ranking optimization in metric-agnostic scenarios. Through the discussion of potential solutions to these tasks, we hope to encourage more people to look into the problem of ranking optimization in complex search and recommendation scenarios.