At One Million Wikis and Counting, Wetpaint Wants To Make Every Website Social

8/19/08Follow @gthuang

When I first arrived in Seattle a few months ago, I’d already heard a lot about Wetpaint. Called “stars in the consumer wiki space” and a “power to the people” company by Jude O’Reilley of online-health startup Trusera, I knew it was one of the Northwest’s top young tech companies. Founded in 2005, Wetpaint has raised $40 million in venture capital—most recently a $25 million round in May, led by DAG Ventures—and just last month it passed a milestone of 1 million consumer wiki sites created using Wetpaint.

So yesterday I checked in with Ben Elowitz, Wetpaint’s chief executive, to see how things were going with the company’s most recent product launch—an online widget called Injected that lets any website become a “social” site. That means anyone visiting an Injected site can add content to the site (e.g., writing, pictures, video), edit it, and connect with a community of other contributors. “It’s instant social publishing,” says Elowitz. “Super easy to install, takes just a couple lines of code, and it works from inside your system.”

That means the “wiki-ness” is created not in the user’s Web browser, like most widgets, but at the server level. Because it is more embedded and integrated into the website, it improves the search engine optimization, which makes the site easier to find and helps drive traffic. Customers include the websites Flixster, IGN, NuWire Investor, and “a whole bunch we haven’t announced yet,” says Elowitz. “We work with the companies, give them the first 100,000 monthly impressions for free, then use a revenue-share model.”

Some quick stats: besides the million consumer wikis, Wetpaint has helped create corporate wiki sites for about 100 different brands like Showtime, Fox, and Discovery Channel. Its widget is targeted at a range of small-to-larger media companies that want to grow their audience and content. Meanwhile, Wetpaint itself has steadily grown; it’s now up to 45 people, with the fastest growth being in the product development team. Elowitz says the company is not profitable yet.

The longer-term strategy of Wetpaint is—no exaggeration—to change the face of the Web. “We want to make every site on the planet social,” says Elowitz. “Today, if you ask someone to name a social site, all they come up with is Facebook and MySpace. We want every site to be socially powered.” That goal flows naturally out of Wetpaint’s first million wiki sites, he adds.

And the most interesting thing he’s learned about Web behaviors? “How crafty the smaller publishers are, and how quick they are,” Elowitz replies. The small ones are the most innovative in terms of how they integrate the Wetpaint widget, he says, pointing to NuWire, a Seattle-area investment information site, as a prime example of a small company building its content and developing a community of readers and contributors.

Elowitz is also a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization of Seattle, a 90-strong network of young innovators who have built their companies to annual sales of $1 million or more. Because of his success with Wetpaint, and online jewelry retailer Blue Nile before that, Elowitz often gets asked for his advice on how to fundraise and attract attention. “Find one thing and do it super-well,” he says. “You’ll end up having one metric, one dimension in how you beat other folks, and you’ll get positive feedback going.” For Wetpaint, that one metric would be the number of social sites created using the company’s platform. “Do something great,” Elowitz adds. “Really go for it, don’t be afraid.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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