Exploring the Balance Between Novelty and Familiarity in Recommendation Systems

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Exploring the Balance Between Novelty and Familiarity in Recommendation Systems

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The balance users seek between the comfort of familiar recommendations and the excitement they solicit in novel ones is a challenge for recommendation systems. On the one hand, familiar options help improve the trust and confidence of users in the system. On the other hand, novel options play a key role in providing serendipity - the delightful surprise that makes system more engaging and useful. However, in their pursuit to achieve the delicate balance, existing recommendation techniques have overlooked user-specific needs and assumed that users have the same, constant appetite for the amount of novelty and familiarity in their recommendations. This thesis highlights and emphasizes the dynamics in user consumption of familiar versus novel items and explores the balance between the two in recommendations. Studying users' consumption patterns in online music streaming we first show that users have distinct and dynamic appetites for novelty in their consumption. We show how a recommender adaptive to the varying appetite of users' novelty consumption is more accurate than traditional one-size-fits-all approaches. Second, we show that not only do users have a distinct appetite, but that there exists a systematic relationship between the novel items they consume and the time elapsed between successive sessions. Third, we address the limitations of inferences from activity logs and the assumptions we impose on actions taken by users in developing algorithms. Instead, we use a qualitative approach in which we interview users while they engage in music listening in their everyday environments to identify how a combination of factors, such as attention needs, exposure to artists or songs etc., influence the balance users seek between novelty and familiarity in their selection. Finally, apart from analysis of what users consume, this thesis also demonstrates the implications of individual familiarity and novelty on the content users produce in online social platforms. Analyzing online location-tagged photos shared by users on Flickr and the familiarity of the users with a location, we show that the locals, who are more familiar with a location, capture more diverse photos of the location, yet it is the tourists who, in their short stay and being less familiar, capture more representative photos of the location. The thesis aims to provide a guiding tool to define, measure, and model the dynamics of the familiarity and novelty balance users consume on online media platforms. The simplicity of our method and its ability to be embedded within existing recommendation techniques supports the contribution of this thesis as well as its general adaptability to other domains of user interactions.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation.September 2018. Major: Computer Science. Advisors: Loren Terveen, Joseph Konstan. 1 computer file (PDF); xi, 107 pages.

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Kumar, Vikas. (2018). Exploring the Balance Between Novelty and Familiarity in Recommendation Systems. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy, https://hdl.handle.net/11299/201159.

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