The item cold-start problem is of a great importance in collaborative filtering (CF) recommendation systems. It arises when new items are added to the inventory and the system cannot model them properly since it relies solely on historical users’ interactions (e.g., ratings). Much work has been devoted to mitigate this problem mostly by employing hybrid approaches that combine content-based recommendation techniques or by devoting a portion of the user traffic for exploration to gather interactions from random users. We focus on pure CF recommender systems (i.e., without con- tent or context information) in a realistic online setting, where random exploration is inefficient and smart exploration that carefully selects users is crucial due to the huge flux of new items with short lifespan. We further assume that users arrive randomly one after the other and that the system has to immediately decide whether the arriving user will participate in the exploration of the new items. For this setting we present ExcUseMe, a smart exploration algorithm that selects a predefined number of users for exploring new items. ExcUseMe gradually excavates the users that are more likely to be interested in the new items and models the new items based on the users’ interactions. We evaluated ExcUseMe on several datasets and scenarios and compared it to state-of-the-art algorithms. Experimental results indicate that ExcUseMe is an efficient algorithm that outperforms all other algorithms in all tested scenarios.