Since this post was written, Google has implemented Search within Google+ and rendered much of the old Google Sparks writeup below obsolete. I have a new post up at our sister site WebBeat.TV on Google+ Search.
Yes, it’s time for more Google+ how-tos! This time we’re going to have a look at Sparks, a severely under-valued part of the whole Google+ package.
Google Sparks is very similar in concept to both Google Reader and Google Alerts. It’s a way for you to read the latest news, like Reader, but the way it does it is more like Alerts – you specify what subject you want to read about and it shows you the very latest news about that subject from various sources. With Reader, you’re limited to telling it “I want to read everything on this feed, no matter what it’s actually about.”
Sparks are accessed right below the Stream options on the left side of your Google+ main page. When you click the Sparks heading, you’re taken to a page that looks much like the above screen capture.
To get started with Sparks, find the big text field with “Find stuff you’re interested in…” This is where you type the subject you want to see news about. For instance, say you want to see some Unicorn news.
If it’s an interest you’re going to want to come back to a lot, you can “Add Interest” to pin the Spark to the list over on the left. You can see some of mine are Google+ Games, Robotics, Robots (yes, I like robots, can you tell?) etc.
Once saved to your list, you can return to it again to see if it’s updated. Sparks are intended to show only the latest news about the topic, which makes them fantastic research and drill-down tools for news and for keeping up on subjects you’re really into.
One last thing to note is the little Share link. Clicking that makes it easy to share the Spark just as though it were any other Share on Google+.
It brings up the standard Share panel, which you should be very familiar with if you’ve read my Google+ Messaging Basics or Google+ Advanced Messaging posts. The same rules and features apply – you can share to individuals, circles, and even people who aren’t even on Google+, etc. See those posts if you want to know more.
There’s a lot of potential in Sparks, and I hope Google has been busy thinking up more to do with it. I find I turn to Sparks quite often when I have a particular subject I want the latest word on – Minecraft is probably my most-used Spark at the moment. (Yes, almost a year later the addiction still runs strong.)
Have you been using Sparks? What are some of your favorite subjects to dig into with them? What features are you hoping Google brings to them? Let us know in the comments!