Today, from Brier Dudley: Wetpaint's wiki; angels help Sampa

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Wetpaint Chief Executive Ben Elowitz told me he’ll have a big product announcement in a few months, but while we were talking at his office in Pioneer Square on Monday, one of his potential customers was apparently talking to Michael Arrington at TechCrunch, the popular blog on venture enterprises and startups.

TechCrunch reported that Wetpaint is showing potential customers a version of its wiki/community platform that can be embedded in their sites and hosted on their servers.

It sounds as if one of those partners blew Wetpaint’s nondisclosure agreement and gave Arrington details and a screenshot of the product — code-named “Balco” — but Wetpaint probably won’t mind since he was so enthusiastic.

It’s funny — one of the things Ben and I discussed was how media companies in particular might like Wetpaint’s turnkey community platform but would prefer to host it themselves. He has a good poker face, but I don’t think he was being tricky — he just wasn’t ready to disclose the product.

What I’d like to know now is how Wetpaint will share ad revenue with sites that use Balco, assuming TechCrunch is accurate here. Under its current approach, Wetpaint hosts communities (marquee examples include sites for Fox and Showtime) and splits the revenue from its Google-powered ads.

Maybe that’s why Wetpaint began testing an ad-free version of its service two weeks ago.

Other tidbits: Elowitz said Wetpaint is powering 800,000 wiki/community sites and adding 1,500 to 2,000 a day. It’s also hiring six or seven more employees, adding to the 35 it has working above Salumi near King Street Station.

The company isn’t profitable yet, but Elowitz said that’s because the company is trying to expand usage before revenue and making decisions like playing ads low on the page.

So far it hasn’t seen any evidence of an advertising slowdown.

“No one’s seeing it, but everyone’s on guard for it,” he said.

Angel investors help out Sampa

Is Sampa Seattle’s little startup that could?

The company started out offering simple, personalized Web pages and then sharpened its focus on the family market, where it found traction building sites where families can stay connected and share photos.

On Wednesday, the company announced it raised $1 million from angel investors led by Geoff Entress, a partner at Madrona Venture Group. Others include former executives from Microsoft, Netscape and Lightsurf, the company said.

The redesign, which has been in the works for some time, helped draw the funding by showing investors the direction Sampa is heading, Chief Executive Paul Gross said.

Gross said the site is now “much more WYSIWYG” and easier to control, with a new five-button interface.

The interface was developed after he and founder Marcelo Calbucci hired the company’s third full-time employee, a user-experience designer. With the funding, they plan to hire developers and business development staff to pursue partnerships.

About 68,000 Web sites are built on Sampa’s free, ad-supported service. Gross said it’s seeing about 6,000 new sites a month, and of the total, about 10 percent are active.

In February, it drew 2.3 million pages views and 200,000 unique visitors.

Gross said the company is focusing on its growing number of users this year, and next year it plans to turn its focus to monetization. Sampa plans to begin testing premium offerings later this summer; one approach may be to charge for additional storage.

Also newly added to the site are features including a guest book and “baby countdown” and 50 new templates and themes. The site is also providing more direction to improve the appearance of pages that users create.

“I think the opportunity for Sampa is potentially huge,” he said.

Brier Dudley’s blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.