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Dec 1, 2012

A wish for recommender system at Expedia

I enjoy using Expedia. Its interface is clean and the tools are very easy to use. There is no glitch in any transaction. Thus, for the past year or so I have become a loyal Expedia customer: Reserving almost all my travels on Expedia website.

Last week I was curious about possible vacation deals Expedia may have, wondering if Expedia can recommend some good one for me. After quite a few bookings, I assume Expedia already know what places I am interested in going, or what vacation I would enjoy. Maybe I am spoiled by Amazon and Netflix, who always knows what product I "may buy together"  or what movie I "may be interested". Here is the screenshot I got (shown to the left here) from Expedia. As I look at it, I wonder: Is this what I am supposed to be interested? Or is it just generic ads Expedia display to every customer? Austin is certainly not my favored destination, and the deals are not that interesting (I found out it is indeed a generic page after I logged out and got on the same page).

Suppose Expedia has a more targeted display. Using recommender system, Expedia can show destination that is of special interest to me. How would Expedia know? it can look at other users similar to me, and look at those people's favorite destination for holiday seasons. How do we define similarity of 2 users? There are many ways Expedia can go about doing this, including using the following information: past bookings, click behavior, ratings and comments the users gave to destinations.

All the above information can be captured and sorted together with all the users. Each user thus has a signature "profile". From there, the system can extract user similarity, product (i.e. vacation package) similarity, and then apply even fancier recommender system techniques (such as matrix decomposition) to make personalized recommendation.

When a website makes personalized recommendation, it is more engaging and makes more sales. I  hope to see my "personalized" vacation package on Expedia soon.

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