Sparks is the area of Google+ where you can search on topics you’re interested in, then pin those interests to your sidebar. Sparks pulls from Google searches with a heavy emphasis on blog and news content. From the Sparks stream you can easily share an item with the people in your circles.
To get started with Sparks, Google+ has featured interests such as Cycling, Android, Recipes, Gardening, and Comics. Clicking on one of these shows current web results for that topic. If you want to add a specific interest, type it into the search bar under Sparks.
The Spark search results are very different from what a regular Google search will return for the same phrase. For example, we added “Jeep Wrangler” as a Spark search. Instead of returning the Jeep homepage, the Wikipedia page and the Edmunds.com page for the vehicle as the general Google search did, the Spark search returned a question posed to a blog about tire sizes, an Atlanta-Journal Constitution link about an accident involving a Jeep, and a classified listing for a Jeep Wrangler.
Your interests are kept private until you share it with one person or with one or more of your circles.
Share a Spark. To share an article that “sparked” your interest, click on the Share link beneath the article. Add an optional comment at the top of the article, then choose to share it with all of your circles, one of them, or one person. To share with just one person, start typing their name and the pop-under will start suggesting people.
Hangouts is Google’s multi-user video chat area. Users can choose to let others know that they are hanging out (and even start an empty hangout space) or invite specific people or circles to come hang out by clicking the button on the right column of the home screen that says “Start a hangout.” From here, you can invite individuals, people in specific circles, people in extended circles or the general public (if you’re in a ChatRoulette kind of mood) to video chat. When the hangout session is over, Google+ will inform your circles or the Internet at large who you were hanging out with.
One interesting aspect of Hanging out with more than two people is that you can see all participants in the hangout along the bottom of the screen, but the person in the big video window switches depending on who is talking. When more than one person tries to speak at a time, the switching can get intense. You can stop the switching by clicking on a video thumbnail to set one person up top, including yourself.
Listen to Hangouts in a different language. Charles Warren figured out a way to use Google Translate’s Listen feature to converse with video chatters in another language: “I used the Google Translate Listen button to quickly render in Chinese the funnier bits of conversation for [my friend]. My laptop speakers transmitted the conversation to the Hangout loud-and-clear.”