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Doing Data Science by Cathy O'Neil, Rachel Schutt

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Chapter 8. Recommendation Engines: Building a User-Facing Data Product at Scale

Recommendation engines, also called recommendation systems, are the quintessential data product and are a good starting point when you’re explaining to non–data scientists what you do or what data science really is. This is because many people have interacted with recommendation systems when they’ve been suggested books on Amazon.com or gotten recommended movies on Netflix. Beyond that, however, they likely have not thought much about the engineering and algorithms underlying those recommendations, nor the fact that their behavior when they buy a book or rate a movie is generating data that then feeds back into the recommendation engine and leads to (hopefully) improved recommendations for themselves and other people.

Aside from being a clear example of a product that literally uses data as its fuel, another reason we call recommendation systems “quintessential” is that building a solid recommendation system end-to-end requires an understanding of linear algebra and an ability to code; it also illustrates the challenges that Big Data poses when dealing with a problem that makes intuitive sense, but that can get complicated when implementing its solution at scale.

In this chapter, Matt Gattis walks us through what it took for him to build a recommendation system for Hunch.com—including why he made certain decisions, and how he thought about trade-offs between various algorithms when building a large-scale ...

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