Sunday, August 03, 2008

What's With All This Scamming for Free Content?

Creative Commons License
A number of fellow bloggers and friends have recently received appeals from seemingly unscrupulous individuals at for-profit startups and more established websites "to join their rapidly growing network of bloggers." In other words, they are trying to recruit bloggers to provide free content for their companies so the owners can make a profit.

Say what??

The first one is from Mark Lyall. You can watch his intro here or on YouTube.
Subject: TPC


My Name is Mark Lyall, Psy.D. and I am a segment producer for The Psychological Channel. The Psychological Channel is a new website: that will be launching on or about September 1, 2008. This site will be streaming videos from various sites (youtube, Google video, etc.) that were hand picked for their educational, therapeutic, or scientific value. If you have a video on a topic, send us the name and the site it is hosted on. If you have a video and need assistance uploading it, feel free to contact me. The Psychological Channel will also have articles on different topics having to do with psychology (blogs), and a message board. We contacted you because we are looking for high quality content. Please feel free to submit any written material as a blog on any topic within your area of expertise. Materials that have already been published can only be used if what you send would constitute a different version of material than what has been previously published, so as not to be a copyright infringement [because he wants to own the copyright, apparently]. If you have students that you feel have done an outstanding job on a topic, have them submit it to us for a blog.

We are not looking for videos or blogs that advertise a service, however if they meet our criteria of having scientific or educational merit they may includes contact information.

After September feel free to participate on our message board.

If you have any questions feel free to contact me at:
Thanks for your attention.


Mark Lyall, Psy.D.
Segment Producer
The Psychological Channel

Changing the world through communication
OK, so he wants to reaggregate videos from other sites and feature blog posts by unpaid writers and students. For what? For free!! (and perhaps for promoting his seminar, Collective Momentum).

Maybe The Neurocritic is being too harsh here. The Psychological Channel hasn't even launched yet. He did expressly state that "We are not looking for videos or blogs that advertise a service" (at least in his appeal for writers and contributors).

It may turn out that The Psychological Channel will be a legitimate website that does not push an expensive 3-day seminar claiming to jumpstart your life by providing you "with the momentum to rewiring your brain the way that you want to have it wired."

But just call me jaded after reading the pitch from Dr. Geoff, who at present runs a chaotic site on Wellsphere called Dr. Geoff's MedBlog. The topics currently include plastic surgery, the Happiness Project, a long and highly technical review article on Lyme disease, dental hygiene, the treatment of Chiari malformation (with a case study on "Chiari syncope"). God knows who the audience is supposed to be.

On the WellMix 360beta page for occipital lesion, bizarrely, my recent post on the neural correlates of compulsive hoarding comes up as link number two under blogs on the right hand side:
The Neural Correlates of Compulsive Hoarding
Negative correlations were observed in the left dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus, bilateral temporal cortex, bilateral dorsolateral/medial prefrontal regions, basal ganglia and parieto-occipital regions. These results were independent...
The post didn't have anything to do with occipital lesions at all! There's most definitely a splog-like aspect to some of the pages, including some that are obscene, others that are just funny (disco malaria and disturbed lyric). With this cursory knowledge base in mind, here's the pitch.
Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD wrote:

Hi Blogger,

I was searching for the best medical bloggers when I discovered your blog at http://a blog dot com. I want to tell you I think your writing is great. My name is Dr. Geoff Rutledge, and I've taught and practiced Internal and Emergency Medicine for over 25 years at Harvard and Stanford medical schools. I'm also the Chief Medical Information Officer at Wellsphere (, where we are building a network of the web's leading health bloggers, and I think you would be a great addition.

Wellsphere is a fast growing, next-generation online platform that is revolutionizing the way people find and share health and healthy living information and services. Our platform connects millions of users with the valuable insights and knowledge from health leaders and knowledgeable [GULLIBLE AND UNPAID] writers like you [WHO WILL PROVIDE FREE CONTENT ON OUR FOR-PROFIT WEBSITE].

We are now launching a new health community on Mental Health, and I would like to invite you to be a featured blogger for this community. By joining our network of hundreds of leading health and healthy living bloggers, you will be in great company, and will benefit from exposure to the expanded audience of the Wellsphere community. When you join, we also will feature you on our very popular WellBlog (, with a link back to your blog.

We will republish the postings you've already written for you, and feature them not only on the Mental Health community pages of the site, but also within a new dynamic magazine-like Wellsphere360 section, where we give users a comprehensive view of expert information, news, videos, local resources, and member postings on topics you write about. Your profile page on the site will give you special status as a featured blogger in the Mental Health community. If you are an active contributor, we also will feature you on our homepage at

By connecting to the Wellsphere platform, you will greatly expand the audience for your postings and attract additional readers to your blog. Also, your posts will link back to your blog, so you will benefit from Wellsphere's high ranking and large readership interested in your topic, which will give you more traffic, additional relevant audience, and a higher ranking for your blog.

If you would like to be a featured blogger in the Mental Health community, just send me an email to You can see a sample of a Wellsphere360 special section at

Good health,



Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD
Chief Medical Information Officer
Wellsphere, Inc.
Wellsphere, eh? You don't have to dig very far to find the dirt on that company. Let's start with Valleywag (Silicon Valley's Tech Gossip Rag) and a post titled Failure (from Tue Jul 31 2007):
Wellsphere, an Internet-health startup, gets the velvet-glove treatment from TechCrunch — and a savage expose from Uncov [i.e. Ted Dziuba]. An ex-employee emails Valleywag to add this about Wellsphere CEO Ron Gutman: "The most despicable human being I've ever come into contact with."
Uncov in its previous incarnation is defunct, but that site made Valleywag look like a proper English grandmother at high tea. One can find the remnants of a comment thread on Wellsphere Is On Its Way Out. But it's better to check out the comments on this post, Getting Drunk & Healthy with Wellsphere:
SnakeOil said:

uhhhhhh… okay.

Let's review: you throw a big launch party, stick a video on YouTube, have the same positive and upbeat posters on VentureBeat and TechCrunch, and have a Website full of bugs and limited functionality…

This is professional PR management and not true grass roots community excitement over an innovative and exciting site. Look elsewhere folks. You're being taken advantage of.
You can also read a number of comments from disgruntled former employees and warnings against being conned by the CEO. The most succinct:
RealityBites said:

Ron Gutman has hurt so many people I know, it's high time people become aware of it. He is a pathological liar who will manipulate and fabricate without hesitation. COMMUNITY BEWARE!!
Wellsphere initially received funding from Gemini, an Israeli venture capital investment firm, but it's not clear whether that's still the case. There's more dirt here (scroll down to the entry Wellsphere Is On Its Way Out, October 22nd, 2007):
...It's a catastrophic failure of a "wellness portal", done up in the typical Web 2.0 fashion. However, all of the busting we've done on Wellsphere has been on its management team, whose collective business incompetence borders on mental defect.

. . .

July 30, 2007: We smack Wellsphere's shit down after sitting down to lunch with a bunch of informants. Same day: one of our readers finds a bunch of XSS holes in Wellsphere. Much win is had by all. Next day: The second part of Uncov's punishment of Wellsphere goes live. August 2, 2007: Wellsphere's psychopathic management team raids the comments on both Uncov articles, and a quick post at our prison-bitch site, Valleywag...
What's a blogger to do when receiving a request to join such a network? The Assertive Cancer Patient (Jeanne Sather) has a great post where she reproduces a series of e-mails, including Dr. Geoff's pitch and her initial reply. It's rather amusing. Here's how she introduces the exchange:
Wellsphere: Use the Content of My Blog for Free? (I Don't Think So ...)

Every so often, I get an e-mail from someone who is starting up a new Web site and wants to use the content of my blog, for free.

I'm always pretty amazed by these folks--they want to use my blog, which I've spent countless hours writing, and not compensate me for it. This is my intellectual property, after all. It's how I make my living.

Their pitch usually includes something about how MY blog will benefit from the wider readership of THEIR Web site, but in fact, the reverse is probably true: Their Web site would benefit from having my content.

So I always say no, but, just for fun, I always tell them first that I'm willing to discuss it if they are willing to pay. I think a retainer of $3,000 a month is about right for the use of any and all content on my blog.
$3,000 a month sounds about right to me... NeuroValleywag, are you listening?

ADDENDUM: The Psychological Channel and Wellsphere are not related in any way. Just thought I'd clear up any confusion on the matter, in case that was unclear in this post.

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At August 15, 2008 2:43 PM, Blogger Psych said...


The Psychological Channel is not a scam. Your information is false (i.e., the psychological channel does not copyright content, its goal is an open source for psychological information). You group the sight with other sites that have no relationship with the site, (a Dr. Geoff) and you fault me for having a successful seminar. Given that the site is still under construction I don't know how you were able to get into it, but given that you were able to get into it you should have seen that all of your statements of exploitation were false.

That said, wow we are not even up and running and people are talking about us. Thanks for the compliment.

Mark Lyall
Segment Producer
The Psychological Channel

At August 15, 2008 5:10 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Dr Lyall

The Terms of Use that were previously available on your web site (which were linked to in this blog post) indicated that you would own the copyright of all material appearing on The Psychological Channel.

As for your successful seminar series, I would be curious to see the scientific literature documenting its ability to provide participants "with the momentum to rewiring your brain the way that you want to have it wired."

I haven't come across any evidence that people are capable of rewiring their brains any old way they want to, even if they did have the knowledge of how to improve their own synaptic connections.

At August 15, 2008 6:37 PM, Blogger Psych said...


Given that the site was not up we had a "space fillers" with the terms that were on another site that we change to our name as a "space holder". That is why if you go to all you see is a coming soon banner. Because you were clever enough to log into our site before it is open to the general public (obviously you are bright because you are a psychology prof. at some university, that is why you received my letter) you jump to a false conclusion. I thank you for printing my response, it show you are attempting to be somewhat fair.

As far as the ability that humans have to rewire our brains, here I am at a loss to explain why someone who calls themselves neurocritic would not understand that repetitive thought would link neurons together (i.e., wire these neurons together through an electrical chemical synaptic connection). This is why procedural memories, like driving a car or riding a bike are able to happen at a level of very low awareness.

I appreciate you questioning our motives, that is a good thing, all I would ask is wait until the release of the site in late September early October and judge it on its own merit at that time. Again thanks for the interest and maybe you want to send us a blog on your thoughts. We have some very interesting ones if you had a chance to see what is already posted.

Mark Lyall
Segment Producer
The Psychological Channel

P.S. My daughter believes you must be one of my former students. Are you?

At August 16, 2008 12:30 AM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Dr. Lyall,

Based on information that was publicly available at the time I wrote the original post, my conclusions appeared to be true. It's best to be careful about publishing web pages before they are ready.

I'm familiar with the concepts of Hebbian learning and synaptic plasticity:

The theory is often summarized as "cells that fire together, wire together", although this is an oversimplification of the nervous system not to be taken literally, as well as not accurately representing Hebb's original statement on cell connectivity strength changes.

Beyond presenting an oversimplified view of the nervous system, I questioned the implication that your seminar can direct Hebbian learning in a desired fashion. It's a level of analysis that you simply can't speak to.

Although I may not be a psychology professor, friends and fellow bloggers received your email query. And I will neither confirm nor deny that I was one of your former students.

At January 30, 2009 2:09 PM, Blogger Sandra K said...

Now that Wellsphere has been sold to someone else who'll make another profit on content given away for free in perpetuity, I'm glad I'm a cynic.

I received spam from Dr. Rutledge nearly every week with various sleazy recruitment tactics ("you're a health hero! here's an award if you'll join!") but sneered at it for good reason.

At January 30, 2009 3:13 PM, Blogger Sandra K said...

P.S. It was quite easy to search and find dirt on Wellsphere when I got that initial pitch, and even easier after Jeanne and others wrote their criticisms. People really need to learn to Google and not trust so easily.

The Psychological Channel (which died soon after its launch) was more naive than malicious, IMHO.

At May 03, 2011 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD
Chief Medical Information Officer
Wellsphere, Inc.

He now has a new site called and is looking for writers. He asks them to do an extensive free sample and then offers an incredibly low pay rate to rip off questions on other sites

At May 03, 2011 8:54 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Thank you for that tip, Anonymous!


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