Google Plus has been, so far, quite a triumph for Google. It’s gotten a fair bit of media attention, there’s a visible clamor for invites on other social networks, and, most importantly, it’s a great product. A lot of people are still trying to it figure out. Google included, I imagine. What’s perfect as is? What’s lacking? And where? how are the masses going to use it? There are a number of features that the current batch of Google Plus beta testers have talked about in depth, but a few I feel have been ignored. Chiefly, Sparks.
To understand what I want from Sparks, I think I need to clarify a bit of my personal history with online news consumption in the last couple of years. I was a Digg user for some time, but stopped using it not long after version 4 was released. Originally, for my purposes, Digg was just a news aggregator. Other users posted news, other users voted on if it was good or not, and it’d end up on the front page where I’d read it. I voted, too, but rarely in the Upcoming sections. I could go to digg.com at 2pm, see one batch of news, and come back at 6pm and see all new stuff that had been shared since. Digg 4 took it all in a more “social” direction, focusing too heavily on some abstract community. Also, they tried to cater to news outlets by including some archaic system for users to follow Cracked or The Wall Street Journal, but it was some sort fo all or nothing game. The way I was using Digg was virtually impossible now. So, I went to reddit. Reddit is built from the ground up for it’s community, but community references itself ad nauseum. Although I’m still using it, it falls far short of how I want to consume my news, but does hit a few key points.
My ideal system is that I follow certain key interests I have. Video games, MMO’s, Formula 1, sports cars, world news, national politics, books, movies, television, etc. Users submit stories from around the internet to these topics, and other users vote it up or down based on how “good” the story is. Very reddit “subreddit” inspired, I know. The difference to me is that I’d don’t ever want to see comments, user names, anything that identifies the user that submits it, the users voting on it, anything. Just a headline, a blurp, and the score it’s gotten. I just want the bits and pieces from around the web. For instance, I don’t care about what some guy says about what a girl did after she heard about what her mom said the president was going to do. I care about what the president is going to do, and MAYBE what someone’s reaction is if it’s poignant (or funny). To me, if you’re opinion on the matter is valuable to the internet, then you should take the time and write something in depth. People will submit it and vote it up if it’s good. If it’s not, then shut the hell up.
Now, to get back to Google Plus. Sparks has been, at least from my point of view, widely ignored. I see SO MUCH potential for Sparks to fill this void in “just the news.” As Sparks works right now, I search for the topic I want to see a Spark about, Formula 1 for instance, and hit “Add Interest.” Now I have a nice little news feed of F1 news. The current problem is there aren’t enough news sources parsed, which can be fixed easily enough for the automated side of things. However, half of the point of Google Plus has been the +1 button. There’s a voting system already built into the thing, why aren’t they using it in Sparks? They could easily hit on every point I’m looking for with some (I imagine) subtle changes. Have the Sparks pull in more news sources, probably using Google News’ as a starting bed. Then allow user submitted material. As the system sees certain sites being submitted regularly, it gets parsed if it wasn’t already. Users can then vote for all the news with +1’s. Each Spark has two tabs, Top News and Upcoming. Freshly submitted pieces go in upcoming, and things that are getting a lot of +1’s or shares goes in top. You could even create another one of those annoying “share it!” buttons for webpages to include, a “Spark it” button. The user can go to a Cheezburger network site, hit Spark it, pick the Spark for it to go it, and they submit and +1 it at the same time.
I see a lot of potential in Google Plus as a whole. I can treat it like a Twitter/Facebook cross over, potentially dropping a service or two in time. If Sparks grows and develops in the right ways, I can replace a lot of news sources I hit multiple times a day, too. I don’t remember the last time I was actually excited to see where one of these projects goes, there’s so much potential and I think everyone knows it.