Large Language Models for User Interest Journeys


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Large language models (LLMs) have shown impressive capabilities in natural language understanding and generation. Their potential for deeper user understanding and improved personalized user experience on recommendation platforms is, however, largely untapped. This paper aims to address this gap. Recommender systems today capture users' interests through encoding their historical activities on the platforms. The generated user representations are hard to examine or interpret. On the other hand, if we were to ask people about interests they pursue in their life, they might talk about their hobbies, like I just started learning the ukulele, or their relaxation routines, e.g., I like to watch Saturday Night Live, or I want to plant a vertical garden. We argue, and demonstrate through extensive experiments, that LLMs as foundation models can reason through user activities, and describe their interests in nuanced and interesting ways, similar to how a human would. We define interest journeys as the persistent and overarching user interests, in other words, the non-transient ones. These are the interests that we believe will benefit most from the nuanced and personalized descriptions. We introduce a framework in which we first perform personalized extraction of interest journeys, and then summarize the extracted journeys via LLMs, using techniques like few-shot prompting, prompt-tuning and fine-tuning. Together, our results in prompting LLMs to name extracted user journeys in a large-scale industrial platform demonstrate great potential of these models in providing deeper, more interpretable, and controllable user understanding. We believe LLM powered user understanding can be a stepping stone to entirely new user experiences on recommendation platforms that are journey-aware, assistive, and enabling frictionless conversation down the line.
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