Friday, Jan 05, 2007
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Amazon puts faith -- and money -- in Wikia

By Ryan Blitstein
Mercury News

Amazon.com has invested in Wikia, the San Mateo for-profit wiki company co-founded by Jimmy Wales, one of the brains behind online encyclopedia Wikipedia, the start-up said Wednesday.

The Seattle online retailer did not disclose the size of its investment.

Wikis are changeable Web pages whose content can easily be edited by many users. On Wikia, communities gather virtually to create Web pages devoted to any subject ranging from the city of Calgary to television shows like ``24.''

``Amazon has always believed in giving the customer as much information as possible so that they can make the purchase that's best for them,'' Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos said in a statement. ``We want to support the continued growth of sites like Wikia, which has cracked the code for user-generated content.''

Wikia also announced Wednesday that it had spent more than $2 million to buy ArmchairGM, a sports community site running on the same MediaWiki software platform used by Wikia and Wikipedia. Wikia will use the infusion of venture capital to buy more community sites, said Wikia Chief Executive Gil Penchina.

Since Wales and Angela Beesly founded Wikia in November 2004, 30,000 people have created more than 400,000 wiki articles in 45 languages. The company raised $4 million in venture capital in March from Bessemer Venture Partners, Omidyar Network and some prominent Silicon Valley angel investors, including Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen.

Amazon is the sole investor in this second round of funding. Jeff Blackburn, its senior vice president for business development, will join Wikia's board of directors.

Wales, a former futures and options trader, created Wikipedia in 2001 with philosophy professor Larry Sanger. More than 2 million users worldwide have written several million Wikipedia entries in dozens of languages.

Although they share a founder, the differences between Wikia and Wikipedia stretch far beyond their business models. Whereas Wikipedia is a general reference site, Wikia members contribute large amounts of information about specific topics, and add their own opinions, sometimes anonymously. Wikia is less like an online Encyclopedia Britannica and more like a multipurpose version of the travel guide and opinion site TripAdvisor.

``If you want the one-page description of `The Simpsons' or Homer Simpson, Wikipedia is the right place to go. If you're a fan of `The Simpsons' and want to read and write hundreds of pages about the show, go to Wikia,'' said Penchina, Wikia's CEO.

Unlike traditional Internet media companies, Wikia employs neither editors nor fact-checkers. When Wikia readers click on advertisements provided by Google AdSense, the company doesn't have to pay a share to the writers.

Until the ArmchairGM acquisition, Wikia's more than 1 million users came almost entirely through word of mouth. Penchina said he's spent a mere $5.74 on marketing to generate 40 to 50 million page views during November, roughly on par with several major newspapers' Web sites.


Contact Ryan Blitstein at rblitstein@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5715.