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Towards Content Provider-Aware Recommendation Systems: A Simulation Study on Interplays among User and Provider Utilities

Ruohan Zhan
Elaine Le
Martin Mladenov
Alex Beutel
Ljubljana, Slovenia, pp. 3872-3883


Most existing recommender systems primarily focus on the users (content consumers), matching users with the most relevant contents, with the goal of maximizing user satisfaction on the platform. However, given that content providers are playing an increasingly critical role through content creation, largely determining the content pool available for recommendation, a natural question that arises is: Can we design recommenders taking into account utilities of both users and content providers? By doing so, we hope to sustain the flourish of more content providers and a diverse content pool for long-term user satisfaction. Understanding the full impact of recommendations on both user and content provider groups is challenging. This paper aims to serve as a research investigation on one approach toward building a content provider-aware recommender, and evaluating its impact under a simulated setup. To characterize the users-recommender-providers interdependence, we complement user modeling by formalizing provider dynamics as a parallel Markov Decision Process of partially observable states transited by recommender actions and user feedback. We then build a REINFORCE recommender agent, coined EcoAgent, to optimize a joint objective of user utility and the counterfactual utility lift of the content provider associated with the chosen content, which we show to be equivalent to maximizing overall user utility and utilities of all content providers on the platform. To evaluate our approach, we also introduce a simulation environment capturing the key interactions among users, providers, and the recommender. We offer a number of simulated experiments that shed light to both the benefits and the limitations of our approach. These results serve to understand how and when a content-provider aware recommender agent is of benefit in building multi-stakeholder recommender systems.

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