• Google just launched a new social network project that seems to draw inspiration from the popular Pinterest.
  • Google Keen is a service that lets people save items related to their interests, share their keens, and explore the board of other people.
  • The service uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to identify content that matches your interests. Therefore, Google could use Keen to collect more user data for its ads business.

As big as Google has gotten over the years, the company has never been able to come up with a social network offering of its own that would keep users interested. Not every tech company has to create a social network to stay alive, but Google’s is certainly the kind of company that would benefit from one. That’s because of the way Google makes its money. It’s advertising that brings in most of the cash each quarter, and the better-tailored ads Google servers, the higher its earnings will be. That’s why Google collects all that data about you with the help of all its free apps, many of which are must-haves on mobile and desktop. The privacy trade-off should be clear to anyone if it’s not already: you get a bunch of great apps that you can use for free as long as you’re okay with Google collecting data about your interest to serve up better ads. There’s nothing wrong with that line of business, and many people have no problem with that transaction. Not to mention that Google has been improving its privacy policies in recent years. But a successful social network could really help Google collect even more relevant data about your likes and interests and turn it into pertinent ads. That’s where Keen might help, assuming this Pinterest-lookalike ever takes off.

Pinterest users will quickly get what Keen is all about. It’s a place to collect ideas about whatever topics you’re interested in and pin them to boards that give you quick access to everything you’ve collected as well as to pinboards belonging to others. Even the design of Keen will remind you of Pinterest. If you’re not into pinboards, then you might not be too keen on Google’s new social network.

Keen comes from Google’s experimental Area 120 team, and it’s now available on Android and the web. The app might have a key advantage over Pinterest, and that’s Google’s advanced artificial intelligence tools. A team of Googlers from the People and AI Research (PAIR) was involved in the Keen project. PAIR is “dedicated to human-centered machine learning systems,” as Google explains.

Here’s how Keen should operate, according to Keen co-founder CJ Adams:

You can curate for yourself or for other people. Just as my wife found resources to help me learn about birding, you can use Keen to build a collection of your best resources on a topic you know well and share it with people who would enjoy your curation. The keens can be private or public, so you control what is shared and who can contribute.

In other words, Keen is a social network that Google can use to mine additional data for yourself. The announcement doesn’t say how the Keen data will be added to your profile, but it makes it clear that Google does collect data to make your Keens better:

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. 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.

Also, it’s unclear whether Google’s version of Pinterest will ever be monetized by ads. For the time being, it doesn’t even need to be. But if it ever gets as popular as Pinterest, then it might get ads of its own.

Chris Smith started writing about gadgets as a hobby, and before he knew it he was sharing his views on tech stuff with readers around the world. Whenever he's not writing about gadgets he miserably fails to stay away from them, although he desperately tries. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.