After the conference banquet at JFK Library and Museum, a few of us went to Bukowski for beers. At one point in the conversation, a friend of mine railed against computational advertising as a research topic. I didn’t quite have the nerve to reply that it was one of the topics I’d picked for the SIGIR 2009 Industry Track that would take place the following day.
Finding a speaker for this subject was relatively straightforward. I hadn’t yet recruited anyone from Yahoo!, and I knew that Yahoo! was the place to look for computational advertising experts. So I emailed Prabhakar Raghavan, and he suggested Vanja Josifovski. I’d never met Vanja or heard him speak, but a quick look at his publications and experience was more than enough to convince me. I was delighted when Vanja agreed to participate, presenting “Ad Retrieval – A New Frontier of Information Retrieval“.
I was even more delighted the actual presentation, which you can download here. Perhaps more than any of the other speakers, Vanja embodied the spirit of the Industry Track, which was to bring together the worlds of research and practice in information retrieval.
He started by making the case for textual advertising as an area worthy of study. He pointed out that, while advertising supports much of our access to search engines and online content, most users perceive ads as less relevant than the other content content they access. In other words, there is a significant opportunity for those in the advertising business to broadly improve the online user experience while making money.
He then proceeded to explain the anatomy of a textual ad. If you’re not familiar with the details, I encourage you to look at his presentation. But I’ll reproduce what I feel was his most important slide here, slide #15, titled “Ads as Information”:
- Treat the ads as documents in IR
- [Ribeiro-Neto et al. SIGIR 2005] [Broder et al. SIGIR2007] [Broder et al. CIKM2008]
- Retrieve the ads by evaluating the query over the ad corpus
- Use multiple features of the query and the ad
- How does Ad retrieval relate to Web search?
- Web search:
- Large corpus
- Reorder the pages that contain all the query terms
- Ad retrieval:
- Smaller corpus
- Similarity search rather than conjunction of the query terms: recall in the first phase important
- Web search:
There’s a lot more to the talk, but hopefully that slide conveys how well Vanja posed ad retrieval as a distinctive information retrieval problem worthy of researchers’ attention.
Ironically, I’m not a big fan of advertising, and I see the dominance of the ad-supported model as a bug, rather than a feature, of our current online ecosystem. But I’m realistic enough to know that this dominance is a fact of life for the forseeable future, and I appreciate that better targeted advertising is a win/win for both advertisers and their audiences.
More importantly, I expect that efforts to improve advertising will result in advances in information retrieval that have broader applications. Vanja’s presentation advertised those benefits brilliantly.