Knowledge and Information Systems

, Volume 47, Issue 1, pp 131–155 | Cite as

Speeding up ALS learning via approximate methods for context-aware recommendations

  • Balázs Hidasi
  • Domonkos Tikk
Regular Paper


Implicit feedback-based recommendation problems, typically set in real-world applications, recently have been receiving more attention in the research community. From the practical point of view, scalability of such methods is crucial. However, factorization-based algorithms efficient in explicit rating data applied directly to implicit data are computationally inefficient; therefore, different techniques are needed to adapt to implicit feedback. For alternating least squares (ALS) learning, several research contributions have proposed efficient adaptation techniques for implicit feedback. These algorithms scale linearly with the number of nonzero data points, but cubically in the number of features, which is a computational bottleneck that prevents the efficient usage of accurate high factor models. Also, map-reduce type big data techniques are not viable with ALS learning, because there is no known technique that solves the high communication overhead required for random access of the feature matrices. To overcome this drawback, here we present two generic approximate variants for fast ALS learning, using conjugate gradient (CG) and coordinate descent (CD). Both CG and CD can be coupled with all methods using ALS learning. We demonstrate the advantages of fast ALS variants on iTALS, a generic context-aware algorithm, which applies ALS learning for tensor factorization on implicit data. In the experiments, we compare the approximate techniques with the base ALS learning in terms of training time, scalability, recommendation accuracy, and convergence. We show that the proposed solutions offer a trade-off between recommendation accuracy and speed of training time; this makes it possible to apply ALS-based methods efficiently even for billions of data points.


Recommender systems Tensor factorization Context awareness Implicit feedback Scalability Comparison 



The work leading to these results has received funding from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under CrowdRec Grant Agreement No. 610594. The authors would like to thank Martha Larson for her useful comments on the paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Gravity R&DBudapestHungary
  2. 2.Budapest University of Technology and EconomicsBudapestHungary

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