Wetpaint is a “next-generation” wiki service for the masses. It launches today with the goal of appealing to everyday people who want to build collaborative communities online. Pet lovers, car enthusiasts, school clubs. This is the market the Seattle company is aiming for.

The company says it’s trying to combine the community-building aspects of online forums with the publishing ease of wikis and blogs.

“It’s difficult for offline communities to create an online presence,” Kevin Flaherty, VP of marketing told us. “The technology has to get out of the way of creation.”

Features include a dead-simple WYSIWYG editing screen, simple image uploading, commenting and an auto-suggest tool that lets you see what other pages already exist as you try to create links. “Ctrl-S” saves a page, and the history function clearly shows what’s happened in previous versions (ie; “added a picture” or “no words changed”).

The site is launching with what founder and CEO Ben Elowitz, 33, is calling a true beta. They’ll incubate just a few communities at first, gather feedback and do a full roll-out to the masses later.

Wetpaint has $5.25 million in backing from Trinity Ventures and Frazier Technology Ventures. Elowitz founded Blue Nile, online retailer of diamonds and fine jewelry, and Fatbrain.com.

Here’s the Seattle PI story on Wetpaint’s funding last year (the company was previously called Wikisphere).

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