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Upcoming Sparks App Aims to Fire Up Mobile Conversations

A still-in-the-works startup wants to launch talk radio for the mobile era. Except with no talking.

If you’re a San Francisco Bay area sports fan, today you are 1) excited about the Warriors’ much-improved shooting last night versus the Clippers, 2) stoked that the Giants are now in first place in the NL West, 3) pleased that the A’s are first in the AL West, or 4) eager to see the Sharks make a better showing against the Kings tonight.

And maybe you want to talk about how you feel.

Sparks is a new mobile startup that aims to host conversations about stuff people love to jabber about — like sports, television and politics.

“These conversations have happened forever on talk radio,” said Sparks co-founder Evan Tana. “We want to take that existing behavior and marry it with the ways mobile is changing how we communicate.”

The app — which so far is only being developed for iPhone — is supposed to be released in the coming months. A version focused on Bay Area sports is already in testing.

Though we don’t spend too much time writing about apps that aren’t even out yet, an early version of Sparks I saw had impressive mobile visual design.

The idea, said Tana, is to make it easy to quickly convey expression and emotion. So basically, you select a photo, write a short comment on top of it (less than a tweet), and play with filters and fonts. All of that happens on the same screen.

If you’re having trouble imagining what Sparks looks like, it’s a bit like the anonymous sharing app Secret — with spare and pretty little virtual cards overlaid with text.

But it will be hard to get a new general-purpose mobile app to, well, spark. There’s existing online forum competition like Reddit and many startups already trying to pick it off.

But Reddit, Tana noted, is built around text. “It comes down to the language that you give to people,” he said. “Text boxes are the language of the desktop Web.”

Tana is a mobile app veteran, if there is such a thing. He’s spent the past 10 years in the space, including gigs as an early product manager at location app Loopt and the shopping app Shopkick. His co-founder, Daniel Hammond, started a successful iOS app development firm in college.

On the strength of Sparks’ team, Tana has already raised $2.3 million from investors including Greylock Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, CAA Ventures, Atom Factory, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom, Quora founder Charlie Cheever, Pulse founder Akshay Kothari and Dropbox executive Aditya Agarwal.

This may be an early startup, but Greylock partner John Lilly is on the board, one of only five seats he currently holds. Lilly said he thinks his friends will appreciate when Sparks launches, because he’ll likely divert his constant jabbering about Stanford football to the app, instead of a broad audience on Twitter. Or, more likely, he’ll just crosspost his Sparks posts to Twitter.

This article originally appeared on

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