Now, I'm going to pick on basically every "yet another classifier" paper I've read in the past ten years (read: ever). I'm not trying to point fingers, but just try to better understand why I, personally, haven't yet switched to using these things and continue to use either logistic regression or averaged perceptron for all of my classification needs (aside from the fact that I am rather fond of a particular software package for doing these things -- note, though, that it does support PA and maybe soon CW if I decide to spend 10 minutes implementing it!).
Here's the deal. Let's look at SVM versus logreg. Whether this is actually true or not, I have this gut feeling that logreg is much less sensitive to hyperparameter selection than are SVMs. This is not at all based on any science, and the experience that it's based on it somewhat unfair (comparing megam to libSVM, for instance, which use very different optimization methods, and libSVM doesn't do early stopping while megam does). However, I've heard from at least two other people that they have the same internal feelings. In other words, here's a caricature of how I believe logreg and SVM behave:
That is, if you really tune the regularizer (lambda) well, then SVMs will win out. But for the majority of the settings, they're either the same or logreg is a bit better.
As a result, what do I do? I use logreg with lambda=1. That's it. No tuning, no nothing.
(Note that, as I said before, I haven't ever run experiments to verify this. I think it would be a moderately interesting thing to try to see if it really holds up when all else -- eg., the optimization algorithm, early stopping, implementation, choice of regularizer (L1, L2, KL, etc.), and so on -- are held constant... maybe it's not true. But if it is, then it's an interesting theoretical question: hinge loss and log loss don't look that different, despite the fact that John seems to not like how log loss diverges: why should this be true?)
This is also why I use averaged perceptron: there aren't any hyperparameters to select. It just runs.
What I'd really like to see in future "yet another classifier" papers is an analysis of sensitivity to hyperparameter selection. You could provide graphs and stuff, but these get hard to read. I like numbers. I'd like a single number that I can look at. Here are two concrete proposals for what such a number could be (note: I'm assuming you're also going to provide performance numbers at the best possible selection of hyperparameters from development data or cross validation... I'm talking about something in addition):
- Performance at a default setting of the hyperparameter. For instance, SVM-light uses something like average inverse norm of the data vectors as the C parameter. Or you could just us 1, like I do for logreg. In particular, suppose you're testing your algorithm on 20 data sets from UCI. Pick a single regularization parameter (or parameter selection scheme, ala SVM-light) to use for all of them and report results using that value. If this is about the same as the "I carefully tuned" setting, I'm happy. If it's way worse, I'm not so happy.
- Performance within a range. Let's say that if I do careful hyperparameter selection then I get an accuracy of X. How large is the range of hyperparameters for which my accuracy is at least X*0.95? I.e., if I'm willing to suffer 5% multiplicative loss, how lazy can I be about hp selection? For this, you'll probably need to grid out your performance and then do empirical integration to approximate this. Of course, you'll need to choose a bounded range for your hp (usually zero will be a lower bound, but you'll have to pick an upper bound, too -- but this is fine: as a practitioner, if you don't give me an upper bound, I'm going to be somewhat unhappy).
(As an aside, Mark, if you're reading this, I can imagine the whole CW thing getting a bit confused if you're using feature hashing: have you tried this? Or has someone else?)