June 18th, 2020
“What are we doing?” my wife asked as we both looked up from our phones one evening. We’d been browsing feeds of posts, images, and news for hours on end, mindlessly filling the gaps between work and sleep. “This is our one precious life,” she told me. That line, paraphrased from a Mary Oliver poem, became shorthand for us to spend more time on what we loved.
That week, we started collecting some of the things that brought us joy and shared them with each other. She grew up birding and knew I was interested, so she sent me links to resources on bird identification, migration patterns, and good binoculars. Since we met, we had also dreamed about someday starting a flower farm, so we began collecting notes on farming plans, seed catalogs, and other ideas to chase that dream together.
It was powerful to tell each other what we wanted to spend more time on. And once we did, we found that collecting related ideas, links and resources together gave us a way to spend more time on our shared passions in real life.
To explore this idea further, four colleagues and I created a new experiment called Keen as part of Area 120, Google’s workshop for experimental projects. We worked in close collaboration with a team at Google called People and AI Research (PAIR), dedicated to human-centered machine learning systems, to develop this experiment.
A home for long-term interests
On Keen, which is a web and Android app, 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.
Curate and share
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.
Expand and explore
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.
Spend time on what you love
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.