With 12 million monthly visitors, Wetpaint might be the biggest news site you've never heard of . It's secret? Celebrity and TV news, headlines like, "The 20-Something Virgin: 7 Celebrities Who Waited to Have Sex (PHOTOS)," and some technology that its CEO Ben Elowitz would like to sell you.
Wetpaint is proving itself a growing annoyance in a world dominated by the likes of People.com, Entertainment Weekly and TMZ, but it has something that should make them jealous: A huge amount of its traffic -- more than 45% -- comes directly from Facebook and Twitter, but mostly from Facebook.
Mr. Elowitz launched Wetpaint not because he wanted to be a celebrity gossip monger; rather, he wanted to use it as a testbed for the underlying technologies that wire it to the social web. Today, he's got a client, 8,000-employee Hubert Burda Media, one of Europe's largest magazine publishers with 313 titles (many celebrity-focused), as well as the DLD Conference, one of the best-attended digital conferences in Europe.
Founded in 2007, Wetpaint started out building wiki service, but Mr. Elowitz soon saw an opening in the market: most publishers -- especially those with a print legacy -- had invested plenty optimizing for search, but hadn't figured out how to plug into the social plumbing of the web.
It's the same opening Jonah Peretti saw when he founded BuzzFeed, but the difference is Mr. Elowitz is licensing his tech to other publishers. "We were seeing audience is hanging out on social networks and getting information on social networks at the same time media was figuring out how to get audience from anything other than Google," he said. "We put those two together and realized we could build an audience in Facebook and Twitter and then help media companies make money by bringing those audiences back to the destination sites."
For Mr. Elowitz, the proof is Wetpaint itself, a site with content that 's ubiquitous on the web, but is still managing to grow fast in a supercrowded, competitive field. Driving that is a data-driven publishing platform that helps media companies find and build an audience in social, learn what that audience wants and when, and then gets them to click through back to their own websites.
That's kind of a big deal because for most publishers, Facebook is a closed system. While it's relatively easy to build followers and disseminate content there, it's tough to get them to leave Facebook and visit your website, which is how publishers make money. A look at Wetpaint's competitors shows few websites do that well. MTV .com and People.com get around 10% of their traffic from social but most sites do much worse -- an average of 2.3%, according to Wetpaint's analysis.
Right now the platform is built for Facebook, but Mr. Elowitz says they're building out a Twitter offering as well. While Wetpaint isn't the only social technology for publishing, but Mr. Elowitz says the problem with most tech created for publishers is "the people making the tools aren't using them."
Mr. Elowitz has raised $39.8 million from Accel Partners, Frazier Technology Ventures, Trinity Ventures and DAG Ventures and has 45 employees in Seattle and New York City.