Losing a Million Bucks: Netflix Prize Interview

I ( and collective pseudo geeks) across the world lost a potential million dollars when the following team won the Netflix prize. In disgust, I just renewed my Netflix subscription and noticed a 10% increase in the way I liked them.

Jokes apart, here is an except ( perhaps one of the few ever) of an interview of the Netflix winners done by the great Eric Siegel, Phd.

Eric is conference chair of the Predictive Analytics Conference ( a King Arthur’s round table conference on all the shining knights of the data analytic’s world)


[ES] With no relevant background in statistics — let alone product recommendations specifically — what capabilities or background did make your success possible? Do you consider yourselves mathematicians, or at least strong with math?

[MC] I am certainly not a mathematician – I have engineering level skill. I consider Martin Piotte to have an exceptional mathematical mind (he participated successfully in international math contests when he was a student) even though he never formally studied in that field. In the end, the mathematics used in this contest seem very complex, but are really rather simple. Compared to what most people think, this was more of an engineering contest than a mathematical contest [See Martin’s response below for elaboration on this central point. -Ed]. Also, I think that having a perhaps less in-depth but wider array of skills and knowledge helped us.

[ES] You’ve said, when first getting started, you learned many core strategies/techniques from the Netflix Prize discussion board. Did you do much reading or research elsewhere to ramp up?

[MC] Having started late in the competition, the forum was a good starting point as many avenues had already been explored and links had been posted to many interesting papers. In the end though, reading and getting a good understanding of the actual research papers was a very important step. The forum was also a place where people proposed new (sometimes far fetched) ideas; these ideas often inspired us to come up with our own creative innovations.

PAWS is a great place to meet, greet and do business and though it is 5 hours away I have too much homework to do and grade while at University of Tennessee ( for now)-

Here is a very interesting poll that they are carrying it is good to see conferences take feedback in such a transparent manner-

paws poll

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