Zach Friedman PZ ’21 was walking back from the library alone after a midterm study session at the library when he recognized a classmate of his that he only knew by name. They got to talking, and realized they could study together.
“[We were] at the same place at the same time, studying the same subject, and we had no way of connecting,” Friedman said. He realized, “‘Wow, there’s really an opportunity here to try to solve this problem.’”
That connection was the flint that lit the spark of Spark Study. Created entirely by and for 5C students, Spark Study is an academic social networking app that connects students in the same classes or clubs. It was released Sunday on Apple’s App Store and Google Play.
Students are able to input their schedules into the app, and it automatically groups students in the same classes together. According to the Spark Study Instagram account, students will then be able to collaboratively create study groups, schedule meetings, message other classmates and set up tutoring — all within the app.
This preprogrammed collaboration solves that problem Friedman faced on his walk back from the library, taking the confrontation out of collaboration.
“We’re so predisposed to needing affirmation before we take action,” Friedman said. “Think about Tinder — you need to know someone else likes you for you to message them. And that’s become so habituated now that it’s considered a weird move just to walk up to someone in person, and ask them if you want to hang out or study.”
The streamlining of Spark Study, then, is meant to eliminate any such weird moves, head of marketing Cooper Morrison PZ ’23 said. The app brings together features like group chat and scheduling, which would traditionally be on different apps, onto one platform for ease.
While the idea for Spark Study was born before quarantine, it has become even more relevant as each of the 5Cs go online for the fall, especially for incoming first-years who will not get an in-person orientation. The app also accounts for different time zones.
“We’re really trying to provide a digital, social kind of orientation,” Friedman said. “Both to incoming students, new [first-years], as well as existing students, because it’s going to be really hard to branch out normally, especially in this virtual environment.”
Similarly, Spark Study will have features to connect people in the same clubs and student organizations, especially in the wake of losing the 5Cs’ annual in-person Turf Dinner. Students will also be able to connect to other 5C students who share similar interests.
“The isolation has been so tough on me and other students I’ve talked to,” Friedman said. “Why not be able to see who’s around if someone’s interested in meeting someone new, or even just … engage with someone else from your community?”
The Spark Study team is also working with professors to use the app. Although it will be a student-only space, some professors have agreed to put sign-ups for the app in their syllabi.
While much of the feedback for the app so far has been positive, Friedman says some student body presidents have discussed potential data privacy concerns with Friedman.
“[Privacy is] the number one thing for us,” Friedman said. “We’re building this for our peers, so we take that the most seriously. And that’s why all of the information you put in is consensual. We won’t take your location data or any of that kind of stuff.”
As a completely student-run app, the development for Spark Study has been a learning experience for many involved. Spark Study developers have reflected on the obstacles of being a small startup.
“I’ve learned a lot in terms of structure, like working for a company and getting things done on time,” said Jess Simon-Parker PZ ’22, another head of marketing. “But it’s also hard working for a startup because there’s so many roles to fill in, so many uncertainties. You could spend a lot of time researching something that you eventually will, as a group, decide ‘You know what? We don’t want to use that as our marketing strategy,’ or ‘We don’t want that as part of the app.’ So you have to put a lot of time into a bunch of different areas.”
That being said, members of the Spark Study team have found the experience to be ultimately rewarding, and the group is still accepting any 5Cs students interested in helping develop it.
“It’s really interesting to listen to people and their different ideas; there’s a lot of really smart people that are part of this team, and there’s a lot of diversity as well,” Morrison said. “You see a lot of diversity in opinion and a lot of diversity in the approach to things, which is super valuable.”
As for the next steps, Friedman hopes to expand his app nationwide after its initial launch, which will require investors. He also understands that the app won’t be perfect initially, but looks forward to how student feedback and usage will shape the app in the future.
“We’re so good at showing off our vacations on Instagram and even seeing who pays you with Venmo,” Freidman said. “But why, when studying is a huge part of 18 to 24 year olds’ lives, hasn’t this been modernized? We’re really trying to take a step in that direction.”