When Facebook hosted an internal competition a few years ago to develop new product ideas, a handful of employees teamed up to build a robot named Max.

Shaped like a small, upside-down bowl, Max was designed to be a companion–a physical device humans could talk to that could detect their mood, according to two people familiar with the hackathon project. The creators gave Max little ears and whiskers so the device would be more fun and approachable, like a cat.

Max never evolved beyond the hackathon. But engineers and researchers at the company, now called Meta Platforms Inc., are still grappling with the thorny problem the experimental robot cat was designed to combat: loneliness. Meta, with a mission to help people connect online, has discovered through internal research that its products can just as easily have an isolating effect. As the company struggles to retain and add users for its already-massive social networks, making sure those people are happy is key to Meta’s financial success.