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Google launches a new social network, because “technology struggles with understanding what we want to spend our time on”

Orkut. Google+. Buzz. Friend Connect. Shoelace.

Google’s attempts at building a viable social network are legend. 

Time after time the Mountain View monolith has taken on the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat. Time after time it has failed to make headway in the social space.

This time though, it feels different. 

Google acknowledges that “technology struggles with understanding what we want to spend our time on” and has designed its new social network Keen as “a home for long-term interests”.

Perhaps mindful of its past failures, Google doesn’t outright call it a social network. The company terms it “an experiment”, much like how Steve Jobs insisted, “Apple TV is just a hobby”.

While some are seeing it as an AI-powered Pinterest competitor, it’s a bit more than just an image sharing service. Keen, according to its creators, is an experiment from Area 120 and PAIR, built to expand what you’re into, helping you curate, collaborate and expand every interest.

Keen can save and add links, text, images and web searches, and everything you add gets you more to explore, as it leverages the Google Search index, combined with user feedback, to provide personalized recommendations that improve over time.

Keen isn’t intended to be a place to spend endless hours browsing. Instead, it’s a home for your interests: a place to grow them, share them with loved ones and find things that will help in making this precious life count.

CJ Adams, Co-founder, Keen

On Keen, Adams says, “you say what you want to spend more time on, and then curate content from the web and people you trust to help make that happen. You make a “keen,” which can be about any topic, whether it’s baking delicious bread at home, getting into birding or researching typography. Keen lets you curate the content you love, share your collection with others and find new content based on what you have saved.”

Adams offers a detailed take on the origin of Keen, and you can read it on the Google Keyword Blog.

Here’s a short intro video that tells you what Keen is.

“For every keen you create, we use Google Search and the latest in machine learning to remain on the lookout for helpful content related to your interests. The more you save to a keen and organize it, the better the recommendations become,” Keen’s co-founder explains.

“Even if you’re not an expert on a topic, you can start curating a keen and save a few interesting “gems” or links that you find helpful. These bits of content act like seeds and help keen discover more and more related content over time. You can also follow keens that others have created, discovering thousands of hand-curated lists from the community and getting alerts when new things are added.”

“It’s interesting to see Google push its machine learning systems into more varied applications,” says James Vincent, AI and Robotics reporter for The Verge. “Especially those that seem like they’re trying to foster users’ interests in rewarding hobbies, rather than algorithms that drive people to greater engagement without caring what it is they’re actually engaging with.”

“There’s also the question of what Google itself is getting out of this project in terms of data. The company has never been able to break into the social space, a venue of online activity that generates scads of lucrative data for targeting ads. A Pinterest-style social network would really allow it to hone in on users’ interests and gather this information.”

Keen is currently available on desktop and Android, and here’s a 30-second walkthrough on how it works.