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Will Easy Wikis Mean Busy Cliques?

Wetpaint wants people to use its wiki tools to build online communities of animal lovers, political junkies, gamers, and more. Once the sites are up, will advertisers follow?
The idea for Wetpaint, which is backed by $5.25 million from Trinity Ventures and Frazier Technology Ventures, came from a friend who after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer couldn't find a place online to meet others who shared his experience.

So the company created WikiCancer.org, one of the eight beta sites it launched last month, along with others targeting dog lovers (wikiFido.com), Xbox 360 fans (wikiXbox360.com) and political junkies (wikiDemocrats.com and wikiGOP.com), all pre-populated with information that visitors have since been able to edit.

"Wikis work really well in a trusted group, where people know whoever is going to make a change does so with the best intention in their hearts," Li says.

Wetpaint has been monitoring the sites and gathering user feedback. At wikiFido.com, the community wanted to post photos of man's best friend and "My Dog Is Cuter Than Your Dog" has become the most popular page. A "Cityguides" page was added recently for people to post recommendations about vets, parks, pet food stores and other topics. "We watch what people want to do," Elowitz says.

The formal launch, scheduled for sometime this summer, will feature about 50 different sites. Anyone will be able to set up his own wiki site, on any topic, for no charge. Wetpaint will earn its revenue from commissions, through Google AdSense, from clicks on advertising placed on the sites.

Li says the business model is sound. She cites two job search sites, Indeed.com and Simplyhired.com, that are run on ads relevant to their content pages through AdSense. And once Wetpaint users build their own communities -- say, a group of new mothers in a particular town -- if they get enough traffic, even more advertisers will target them.

The challenge then becomes attracting enough people to build communities. That concept may sound a little dated -- Friendster or MySpace' anyone? -- but Elowitz believes that new browsers' Ajax technology and lower hosting costs combine for a better user experience today compared to roughly four years ago when the social networking sites first launched.

Plus, people have broadband Internet connections at home and they're comfortable with having their Web pages and blogs, Li says.

"You also have a strong culture of participation that didn't exist before," she says. "People are more adept at contributing content to people they know and trust. It's not just community of people randomly drawn together but they have a relationship."

Editor's Choice
Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer