Minimizing Live Experiments in Recommender Systems: User Simulation to Evaluate Preference Elicitation Policies

Martin Mladenov
Ofer Meshi
James Pine
Hubert Pham
Shane Li
Xujian Liang
Anton Polishko
Ben Scheetz
Proceedings of he 47th International ACM/SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR-24), Washington, DC(2024) (to appear)


Evaluation of policies in recommender systems (RSs) typically involves A/B testing using live experiments on real users to assess a new policy's impact on relevant metrics. This ``gold standard'' comes at a high cost, however, in terms of cycle time, user cost, and potential user retention. In developing policies for onboarding new users, these costs can be especially problematic, since on-boarding occurs only once. In this work, we describe a simulation methodology used to augment (and reduce) the use of live experiments. We illustrate its deployment for the evaluation of preference elicitation algorithms used to onboard new users of the YouTube Music platform. By developing counterfactually robust user behavior models, and a simulation service that couples such models with production infrastructure, we are able to test new algorithms in a way that reliably predicts their performance on key metrics when deployed live, sometimes more reliably than live experiments due to the scale at which simulation can be realized. We describe our domain, our simulation models and platform, results of experiments and deployment, and suggest future steps needed to further realistic simulation as a powerful complement to live experiments.

Research Areas