Enabling Goal-Focused Exploration of Podcasts in Interactive Recommender Systems


Content recommender systems often rely on modeling users’ past behavioral data to provide personalized recommendations – a practice that works well for suggesting more of the same and for media that require little time investment from users, such as music tracks. However, this approach can be further optimized for media where the user investment is higher, such as podcasts, because there is a broader space of user goals that might not be captured by the implicit signals of their past behavior. Allowing users to directly specify their goals might help narrow the space of possible recommendations. Thus, in this paper, we explore how we can enable goal-focused exploration in recommender systems by leveraging explicit input from users about their personal goals. Using podcast consumption as an example use-case, and informed by a large-scale survey (N=68k), we developed GoalPods, an interactive prototype that allows users to set personal goals and build playlists of podcast episode recommendations to meet those goals. We evaluated GoalPods with 14 participants where participants set a goal and spent a week listening to the episode playlist created for that goal. From the study, we identified two types of user goals: low-involvement (e.g. “combat boredom”) and high-involvement (e.g. “learn something new”) goals. Users found it easy to identify relevant recommendations for low-involvement goals, but they needed more structure and support to set high-involvement goals. By anchoring users on their personal goals to explore recommendations, GoalPods (and goal-focused podcast consumption) led to insightful content discovery outside the users’ filter bubbles. Based on our findings, we discuss opportunities for designing recommender systems that guide exploration via interactive goal-setting as well as implications for providing better recommendations by accounting for users’ personal goals.


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