Unifying Online and Counterfactual Learning to Rank

Harrie Oosterhuis and Maarten de Rijke
Published in Proceedings of the 14th ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM ’21), 2021. [pdf, code, video, slides, poster]

Award Icon This paper won the Best Paper Award.


Optimizing ranking systems based on user interactions is a well-studied problem. State-of-the-art methods for optimizing ranking systems based on user interactions are divided into online approaches - that learn by directly interacting with users - and counterfactual approaches - that learn from historical interactions. Existing online methods are hindered without online interventions and thus should not be applied counterfactually. Conversely, counterfactual methods cannot directly benefit from online interventions.

We propose a novel intervention-aware estimator for both counterfactual and online Learning to Rank (LTR). With the introduction of the intervention-aware estimator, we aim to bridge the online/counterfactual LTR division as it is shown to be highly effective in both online and counterfactual scenarios. The estimator corrects for the effect of position bias, trust bias, and item-selection bias by using corrections based on the behavior of the logging policy and on online interventions: changes to the logging policy made during the gathering of click data. Our experimental results, conducted in a semi-synthetic experimental setup, show that, unlike existing counterfactual LTR methods, the intervention-aware estimator can greatly benefit from online interventions.

Download the paper here.

Download the presentation slides here.

View the poster for this publication here.

Code is available here.

Recommended citation:

H. Oosterhuis and M. de Rijke. "Unifying Online and Counterfactual Learning to Rank." In Proceedings of the 14th ACM International Conference on Web Search and Data Mining (WSDM’21). ACM, 2021.