We present generalized secretary problems as a framework for online auctions. Elements, such as potential employees or customers, arrive one by one online. After observing the value derived from an element, but without knowing the values of future elements, the algorithm has to make an irrevocable decision whether to retain the element as part of a solution, or reject it. The way in which the secretary framework differs from traditional online algorithms is that the elements arrive in uniformly random order.

Many natural online auction scenarios can be cast as generalized secretary problems, by imposing natural restrictions on the feasible sets. For many such settings, we present surprisingly strong constant factor guarantees on the expected value of solutions obtained by online algorithms. The framework is also easily augmented to take into account time-discounted revenue and incentive compatibility. We give an overview of recent results and future research directions.