Abstract

Proactive search systems like Google Now and Microsoft Cortana have gained increasing popularity with the growth of mobile Internet. Unlike traditional reactive search systems where search engines return results in response to queries issued by the users, proactive systems actively push information cards to the users on mobile devices based on the context around time, location, environment (e.g., weather), and user interests. A proactive system is a zero-query information retrieval system, which makes user modeling critical for understanding user information needs. In this paper, we study user modeling in proactive search systems and propose a learning to rank method for proactive ranking. We explore a variety of ways of modeling user interests, ranging from direct modeling of historical interaction with content types to finer-grained entity-level modeling, and user demographical information. To reduce the feature sparsity problem in entity modeling, we propose semantic similarity features using word embedding and an entity taxonomy in knowledge base. Experiments performed with data from a large commercial proactive search system show that our method significantly outperforms a strong baseline method deployed in the production system.

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