SparkNotes, originally part of a website called The Spark, is a company started by Harvard students Sam Yagan, Max Krohn, Chris Coyne, and Eli Bolotin in 1999 that originally provided study guides for literature, poetry, history, film, and philosophy. Later, SparkNotes expanded to provide study guides for a number of additional subjects, including biology, chemistry, economics, health, math, physics, and sociology. SparkNotes doesn't charge users, but instead earns revenue from advertising.

Barnes & Noble acquired SparkNotes.com in 2001 for approximately $3.5 million.

History

TheSpark.com was a literary website launched by four Harvard students on January 7, 1999. Most of TheSpark's users were high school and college students. To increase the site's popularity, the creators published the first six literature study guides (called "SparkNotes") on April 7, 1999.

In 2000, the creators sold the site to iTurf Inc. The following year, Barnes & Noble purchased SparkNotes and selected fifty literature study guides to publish in print format. When Barnes & Noble printed SparkNotes, they stopped selling their chief competitor, CliffsNotes.

In January 2003, SparkNotes developed a practise test service called SparkNotes Test Prep. This project was followed by the release of SparkCharts, reference sheets that summarise a topic; No Fear Shakespeare, transcriptions of Shakespeare's plays into modern language; and No Fear Literature, transcriptions of literary classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Scarlet Letter into modern language.

Other features

SparkNotes Test Prep provides content and services related to the ACT, and AP, GRE and PSAT/SAT I and II standardised tests. Barnes & Noble sells printed versions of the test prep study guides, as well as SparkCharts and additional printed study materials, in the United States and at Chapters in Canada.

The SparkNotes.com website additionally includes a section students can use to search for colleges.

SparkNotes has moved into educational publishing with books, such as Poetry Classics and FlashKids, a series of educational books for Kindergarten to grade 8 students. They additionally provide exercises for high school teachers.

SparkNotes additionally has a section called SparkLife, a social section focused on non-educational topics for teens and young adults. This section of the site includes blogs, advice columns (most notably by "Auntie Sparknotes"), contributed posts, and Open Threads, which members can use to chat with one another without commenting on a specific post. The regular users of Sparknotes are called "Sparklers." Other features include "Blogging Twilight" by Dan Bergstein, movie reviews, articles about current events, and helpful tips and facts.

The free SparkNotes mobile app for the iPhone/iPod and Android offers:

  • 50 pre-installed study guides in the app library
  • Hundreds of study guides available for viewing online
  • The ability to download any study guide to the mobile device for offline use
  • The ability to share what one is studying and one's status by checking in with a customised post to Facebook

Controversy

Because SparkNotes provides study guides for literature that include chapter summaries, a large number of teachers see the website as a cheating tool. Students can use SparkNotes as a replacement for actually completing reading assignments with the original material or to cheat throughout tests using cell phones with Internet access.

SparkNotes says it doesn't support academic dishonesty or plagiarism. Instead, it suggests that students read the original material, and then cheque SparkNotes to compare their own interpretation of the text with the SparkNotes analysis.