Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Site Builder Wetpaint Makes One for Itself Using the Demand Media Playbook

Do we really need another pop-culture site? Sure, says Wetpaint CEO Ben Elowitz. His pitch: We’ll build a better mousetrap–one that covers every flickering detail about the likes of “Glee” and “The Jersey Shore”–using “data and science.”

Until now, Elowitz has been in the business of helping other publishers build sites with wiki-based tools. But now he’s opening up his own shop at Wetpaint.com, which should be working by the time you read this. (If not–take a look at the sample screenshot at the bottom of this post.)

Elowitz is presenting Wetpaint as a sort of upscale, thinkier version of content factories like Demand Media. Like Demand, Wetpaint uses technology to help it figure out which stories to assign–in Wetpaint’s case, via an “ingestion engine” that is supposed to crawl the Web looking for spiking stories on discussion boards, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

The difference is that Demand is primarily interested in finding lots and lots of stories that will appeal to a relatively small group of searchers, which is how it ends up with search bait like “How to Donate a Used Car in Dallas.”

But Wetpaint is trying to create a destination site for a large number of eyeballs, and says it will use its tech to get them more of what they want, produced by a core group of 10 editorial employees and a freelance squad of 20.

“We don’t care about Google,” Elowitz says. “We’re not trying to get long-tail, we’re not trying to get search traffic.”

Okay. So that’s a bit of hyperbole–Elowitz would like some Google (GOOG) juice as much as the next publisher, which is one of the reasons he’s using the existing Wetpaint name for his site.

But he’s clearly set on exploiting social networks, too. He says Wetpaint.com, via its focus on Facebook-friendly TV shows, has already garnered 500,000 fans on the social network.

Elowitz is also positioning himself as a competitor of pop/gossip Web sites published by old media brands, specifically Time Warner’s (TWX) People, TMZ and Entertainment Weekly sites. But the people who read that stuff online don’t limit themselves to a handful of brands, which is why big Web players like Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo (YHOO) are there, too.

Add in freelance upstarts like Perez Hilton and millions more you’ve never heard of, and it’s a very, very crowded field. Elowitz will need a very clever tech team to make this work.


Latest Video

View all videos »

Search »

I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik