How Useful are Reviews for Recommendation? A Critical Review and Potential Improvements


We investigate a growing body of work that seeks to improve recommender systems through the use of review text. Generally, these papers argue that since reviews ‘explain’ users’ opinions, they ought to be useful to infer the underlying dimensions that predict ratings or purchases. Schemes to incorporate reviews range from simple regularizers to neural network approaches. Our initial findings reveal several discrepancies in reported results, partly due to (e.g.) copying results across papers despite changes in experimental settings or data pre-processing. First, we attempt a comprehensive analysis to resolve these ambiguities. Further investigation calls for discussion on a much larger problem about the ‘‘importance’’ of user reviews for recommendation. Through a wide range of experiments, we observe several cases where state-of-the-art methods fail to outperform existing baselines, especially as we deviate from a few narrowly-defined settings where reviews are useful. We conclude by providing hypotheses for our observations, that seek to characterize under what conditions reviews are likely to be helpful. Through this work, we aim to evaluate the direction in which the field is progressing and encourage robust empirical evaluation

In the 43rd International ACM SIGIR Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR)