Ex-Googlers Try To Create A Better Travel Guide With Nextstop

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wts_s35CTco&hl=en&fs=1]

Are you looking for the best beer bars in the world, good places to make out in San Francisco, or where to go on the Big Island in Hawaii? A travel recommendation site called nextstop mixes social recommendations with search and adds a reputation system and elements of gameplay to come up with a new social online travel guide.

The site has been in beta for a few months, although it hasn’t gotten much attention yet. It was started by a couple of ex-Googlers, Carl Sjogreen and Adrian Graham, who helped launch Google Calendar (Sjogreen) and Google Groups, and Picassa (Graham). A third co-founder, Charles Lin, was a Stanford classmate of Graham’s. The site grew out of their frustration with finding interesting things to do in unfamiliar places. “It is difficult to discover something new when you don’t know what to look for,” says Sjogreen.

Everything on nextstop is geared towards getting people to recommend their favorite places and organize those recommendations into guides. There are various ways to explore the site, including a search box, by city, a guide view, or a map view (see screen shots below). The recommendations can be collected together into guides (like this one for an architecture tour), which can be explicitly “liked” by members. The guides can be sorted by most recent, most liked, or most viewed. You can save any place or guide in a wishlist for later viewing.

But it is the social aspects which give the site an extra edge. Each recommendation acts as a vote (for any given place, you can see how many people recommend it) and you can also vote individual recommendations up and down. Every member gets a reputation score. You get 2 points every time somebody else votes up one of your recommendations, and 15 points when they “like” one of your guides. To fight spam, your reputation score goes down every time somebody votes down one of your recommendations or flags one of your entries. Entries can also be edited wiki-style. Still, it would be fairly easy to game the system with a few friends.

The members with the most points get recognized on a leaderboard. And you can follow any other member, which lets you see all of their entries and actions on the site in an activity stream (which you can export to other services as an RSS feed). In addition to the reputation points, members can also earn “badges” for accomplishing certain goals, such as being the first to recommend a place, for getting 100 views on a guide, or 10 likes. Any recommendation can be shared via email, Facebook or Twitter (but sharing is not automatic, it has to be explicitly selected for each recommendation). Individual guides can also be shared as embeddable badges or widgets.

The site makes very simple to create a recommendation. These are not meant to be in-depth reviews, rather curated suggestions of things to do. It uses a combination of search APis from Google (for local search, geo-location, image search, and maps) and Yahoo Boss (also for image search) to help you find and auto-complete many of the items that go into each recommendation.

Once you create an account or sign in using Facebook Connect, you can type in the name of practically any bar, restaurant, tourist attraction, or business after clicking “add a recommendation.” It will suggest places it recognizes along with their addresses, and if one of them is what you are trying to recommend, you click on it and nextstop will place it on a Google map and find pictures. You pick an image, add a short Twitter-length recommendation no more than 160 characters, and categorize it as a place to eat/drink, stay/sleep, or do/explore along with an approximate price range (free, inexpensive, mid-range, high-end). Then the recommendation is created and other people can find it on the site. I did this for a restaurant in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, Bar Tabac, and it found it immediately, along with a great picture.

There is plenty of competition for online travel guides and social recommendations, starting with TripAdvisor and Yelp down to a bevy of startups including Dopplr, Offbeat Guides and TripSay. But nextstep manages to do things a little bit different. It is not trying to be comprehensive, it is just trying to provide travelers a highly selective and vetted list of things to do and places to visit.