GSP - The Cinderella of Mechanism Design

Apr 3, 2017

Nearly fifteen years ago, Google unveiled the generalized second price (GSP) auction. By all theoretical accounts including their own [Varian 14], this was the wrong auction --- the Vickrey-Clarke-Groves (VCG) auction would have been the proper choice --- yet GSP has succeeded spectacularly.

We give a deep justification for GSP's success: advertisers' preferences map to a model we call value maximization; they do not maximize profit as the standard theory would believe. For value maximizers, GSP is the truthful auction [Aggarwal 09]. Moreover, this implies an axiomatization of GSP --- it is an auction whose prices are truthful for value maximizers --- that can be applied much more broadly than the simple model for which GSP was originally designed. In particular, applying it to arbitrary single-parameter domains recovers the folklore definition of GSP. Through the lens of value maximization, GSP metamorphosizes into a powerful auction, sound in its principles and elegant in its simplicity.

  • International World Wide Web Conference (WWW 2017)
  • Conference/Workshop Paper