New reviews site NextStop made its public debut on Monday after a successful private beta. The site lets anyone write a quick 160-character take on local attractions from around the world. In comparison with other mainstream reviews services like CitySearch and Yelp, this size limitation forces users to keep their rants and raves short and to the point.
In fact, the site is encouraging users to only leave positive reviews, meaning you're not going to run into long, and often entertaining, rants about bad service or a botched entree. There's not even a star-based rating system to be found on NextStop. Instead, every review is expected to be positive, and worth your time.
Writing a review is broken down into three simple steps, and the service holds your hand for the first two. You type in the name and general location of the business or attraction and it does a quick search in the background to find the street number and any local information. Once you've picked the proper place, it then pulls up photos from around the Web that you can add to your review. You're also able to upload them from a URL or from your hard drive.
As for the reviews, 160 characters is quite short. Truth be told, however, you can go over that limit if you have more to say. Similar to Twitter it lets you know how many characters you have, and whatever excess writing you've done simply gets truncated, so other users won't see it until click through to see the entire thing. A major strength of this forced brevity is that adding new reviews is incredibly easy. The few sample ones I did took less than a minute from start to finish.
Along with single reviews, users can make customized city guides. These are simply a compilation of spots you've reviewed that can be browsed like a music playlist. It's fairly standard fare for a local reviews site, but NextStop lets you quickly rearrange the order of each stop, as well as print it out on printer-friendly sheet you can stick in your pocket to take with you. You can even write new reviews directly from the guide creator, meaning you can put together a pretty comprehensive walking tour of a local neighborhood in a matter of minutes.
One major component that's currently missing from the site is a mobile application. You can still access the site through your phone's browser, but you don't get niceties like geo-location to find things around you, or the capability to easily access a bookmarked list. I expect this is something that's coming later on, since such an import part of local exploration is doing it while away from a computer.
That aside, NextStop has two big things that will likely keep users coming back for more. One is deep Facebook integration that lets you share your latest reviews in your news feed, and gives you recommendations of people you should be friends with based on similar things you both enjoy. Like Netflix's rating algorithm, this encourages you to review more places, since it can better connect you to like-minded people.
Another aspect is a badge system that rewards heavy users with medals. The more you've added and contributed to the site, the more distinguished a badge you get. Unlike Yelp's Elite system, this doesn't reward writing style as much as it does volume, meaning that it's easy to get higher-level badges if you use the site frequently.
NextStop faces tough competition from giants including Yelp, which recently rolled out its own short reviews service called Quick Tip--something that's not as robust as the company's existing five-star reviews system, but that allows users to do quick, one-off reviews. There's also Diddit, which is focused specifically on lists and checking off items or places where you've been. It too has a robust itinerary manager that lets you quickly create a day trip and get ideas from others.
Where NextStop is really going to have to sell itself is the fact that you can write a review for any place in any city around the world, and that it will learn your tastes to give you suggestions on people you should know and places you should go. Between that and a GPS-enabled mobile phone app, there's a ton of room to grow it into a successful place to bring in advertisers and get people casually writing several reviews a week.