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Preference elicitation as an optimization problem

Anna Sepliarskaia
Julia Kiseleva
Filip Radlinski
Maarten de Rijke
Proceedings of the International Conference on Recommender Systems (RecSys), ACM (2018), pp. 172-180


The new user coldstart problem arises when a recommender system does not yet have any information about a user. A common solution to it is to generate a profile by asking the user to rate a number of items. Which items are selected determines the quality of the recommendations made, and thus has been studied extensively. We propose a new elicitation method to generate a static preference questionnaire (SPQ) that poses relative preference questions to the user. Using a latent factor model, we show that SPQ improves personalized recommendations by choosing a minimal and diverse set of questions. We are the first to rigorously prove which optimization task should be solved to select each question in static questionnaires. Our theoretical results are confirmed by extensive experimentation. We test the performance of SPQ on two real-world datasets, under two experimental conditions: simulated, when users behave according to a latent factor model (LFM), and real, in which only real user judgments are revealed as the system asks questions. We show that SPQ reduces the necessary length of a questionnaire by up to a factor of three compared to state-of-the-art preference elicitation methods. Moreover, solving the right optimization task, SPQ also performs better than baselines with dynamically generated questions.