“Sparks brings you stories on the things you love from all across the Web, so it’s easy to strike up meaningful conversations with your friends.”
Google+ is designed to enhance what some are calling the “alive web” which attempts to remove as many of the barriers to spontaneous conversation as possible. The purpose of Sparks is to give you something to talk about and discuss.
In an educational setting Sparks would provide an interesting way for students to follow research topics, obtaining information from sources that they may not have considered previously. Helpful articles can quickly be shared to the other members of the group if a circle has been created for them.
While the idea behind Sparks is great, it has a lot of growing up to do before it will be a compelling tool for anyone to use. Sparks could become a more powerful and useful feature of Google+ with a few additions:
- Make sparks more like Google custom search, allow the explicit exclusion or inclusion of specific websites.
- Integrate Google Reader into Sparks to read and share your favorite feeds directly in Google+.
- Enable Spark sharing. Currently you can only share a specific article, not an entire spark.
Another important unanswered question is how Sparks content is chosen. Google Engineer DeWitt Clinton provided only a very cursory explanation in the Google+ help forum:
“[It’s a] new algorithms over a new corpus. Still very much in flux and being further expanded and tuned. I’m sure we’ll give a tech talk eventually about the technology behind Sparks, but this is very early days still.”
Several bloggers have mentioned that the results returned by Sparks appear very similar, but not identical, to a Google New search. Searching for very narrow search terms such as a specific person or a school may not return any results.
For right now, Sparks leaves a lot to be desire. Without customization or a way to fine-tune the returned results, its power is limited. In an educational setting Sparks has great potential as a news aggregator which could assist students with research reports. Adding the ability to include specific RSS feeds would also provide a way for teachers and school administrators to push content such as homework reminders and project directions directly to students.
Set up some sparks. See what you find. Perhaps it will start a conversation with some friends!