Monday, February 02, 2009


Well well wealth...and health. In case you haven't heard, HealthCentral has acquired Wellsphere.

HealthCentral Acquires Wellsphere Creating the Largest Organically Driven Online Health and Wellness Communities

Deal Adds Nearly Four Million Unique Visitors per Month to HealthCentral Reach

Arlington, VA / San Mateo, CA (January 28, 2009)HealthCentral, the leading collection of online condition-specific consumer health and wellness experiences, today announced the acquisition of Wellsphere, a leading health technology company, adding nearly 4 million monthly unique visitors to HealthCentral’s audience. The acquisition combines HealthCentral’s high-quality, condition-specific interactive experiences, content and audience with Wellsphere’s aggregation of over 1,500 health and wellness bloggers and unique Health Knowledge Engine™ technology that deciphers highly specific health information. HealthCentral also will leverage Wellsphere’s health community enterprise technology which powers Stanford University’s BeWell@Stanford site to deliver valuable health information and wellness tools for Stanford employees. The deal raises HealthCentral’s audience of its owned properties to ten million unique visitors per month, and makes the company the largest organic aggregation of online health and wellness communities.
Wellsphere was well-known for its obsequious and persistent recruiting tactics that convinced many naïve individuals to join its "network of the web's leading health bloggers." Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge, the Chief Medical Information Officer, used direct e-mail pitches and flattery to gain access to free content from over 1800 blogs, as reported by Helen Jaques in this recent post:
Health bloggers bite back as Wellsphere sells on posts provided for free

. . .

Dr Geoffrey Rutledge, Chief Medical Information Officer of Wellsphere, generated content for his site by sending flattering emails to thousands of medicine and health bloggers (sample text “I want to tell you I think your writing is great”, “we are building a network of the web’s leading health bloggers - and I think you would be a great addition”). Bloggers gave Wellsphere permission to publish the entire RSS feed of their site, i.e. posts they had already written, in return for exposure for their blog and more traffic.

However, the small print of Wellsphere’s terms and conditions states that by giving Wellsphere permission to reproduce their posts, bloggers automatically grant the company “a royalty-free, paid-up, non-exclusive, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to use, make, sell, offer to sell, have made, and further sublicense any such User Materials[.]” (Thanks to Symtym for checking this out)

Bloggers who allowed Wellsphere to replicate their posts have suddenly realised that content they happily provided free is no longer theirs and has been sold off to HealthCentral for a profit, and boy are they mad.
However, many bloggers were skeptics from the beginning, including The Neurocritic:
What's With All This Scamming for Free Content?

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.

. . .

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 [summarized here]. 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."
Sandra from Channel N was the one who alerted me to Dr. Geoff's obnoxious recruiting campaign (and to this amusing post from Jeanne Sather, The Assertive Cancer Patient):
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.
Even if you politely declined their initial invitation (as Sandra and many others did)...
Date: Wed, Jul 30, 2008
Subject: Re: Invitation to feature your blog on Wellsphere
To: Dr. Geoffrey W. Rutledge MD, PhD

Hi Geoffrey,

I am glad to see that Wellsphere is asking bloggers for their consent before reaggregating them (some sites don't). But no, you can't have my content for free.

Thanks anyway. :)

...resistance was futile! The opening pitch was followed by at least 6 more e-mails from Dr. Geoffrey Rutledge MD, PhD offering "awards" and honors (and widgets) unless you opted out by unsubscribing to the updates.
Date: Tue, Sep 23, 2008
Subject: Useful, free widget, and a link to your blog

Date: Mon, Oct 13, 2008
Subject: Boost your online reputation, increase your visibility!

Date: Sat, Oct 18, 2008
Subject: (Video due Sunday 10/19) YOU ARE OUR HERO - Be Part of History

Date: Fri, Oct 24, 2008
Subject: Yes We Care! Campaign honors you as our "Everyday Hero"

Date: Mon, Nov 17, 2008
Subject: Invitation to become a Health Maven and reach 100,000 Health Seekers every day

Date: Wed, Dec 17, 2008
Subject: Enter the People's Health Blogger Awards today - you can WIN!
The funny thing is, the invitations were sent almost indiscriminately, even to the obvious cynics. Much hilarity ensued.
At September 25, 2008 11:19 PM, Geoffrey W. Rutledge, MD, PhD said...

I think your blog is terrific, and I would like to feature you on Wellsphere ( Would you drop me an email?
Good health!
Geoffrey W. Rutledge, MD, PhD

At September 25, 2008 11:47 PM, The Neurocritic said...

Thanks for the compliment, Dr. Geoff. You must have read one of my other terrific posts, What's With All This Scamming for Free Content?

Sock puppets frequented the comments sections of other critical bloggers, including those with varying ideologies. Particularly laughable is this exchange at Different Thoughts, because the author (Marian) is opposed to biological psychiatry, an agenda she considers rather incompatible with joining Wellsphere. It looks like Dr. Rutledge (and "Bill") are the ones who did not do their homework:

Bill said...

To those that have commented on the Wellsphere should really visit the site, look at what they are trying to do, and investigate the author of the email - Dr. Rutledge. I did and found something quite different....a doctor who has worked clinically, has a PhD from Stanford (in technology), was a medical faculty member at Stanford and Harvard, and built the initial consumer web portal for WebMD. These are impressive credentials.

It seems obvious that Wellsphere is trying to build content and they are soliciting bloggers. Bloggers can evaluate the offer and decide accordingly what they want to do but there are clear advantages to the blogger by joining Wellsphere and offering their content for free. Bloggers may not want to follow that path for their own good reasons but to label Wellsphere in a negative light seems inappropriate.

It is good to be cynical...but first do your homework before you assume the worst...

Marian said...

Bill, as for me, I've been there, and I've seen "what they're trying to do"... And you bet, I've investigated Dr. Rutledge - and others at Wellsphere. I'm not impressed. Actually, I found quite a number of far less polite and "flattering" statements about Wellsphere at various blogs and in comments - some of them by former employees of Wellsphere - than the one I chose to link to in my post. In principle, I don't join anything, I have the least doubt about. And I must admit, that I have a lot more than "the least" doubt about Wellsphere.

Bill said...

. . .

@ Marian - I am always skeptical about ex-employees who say negative things about a previous employer in a public environment. They more often than not have an axe to grind and in my experience are less than credible.

As to not being impressed by Dr. Rutledge? I did a little online research...Who does impress you? How many doctors do you know have a PhD in Computer Science from Stanford, who has been extensively published, and who has been on faculty at two of the most highly regarded academic institutions in the world (Harvard and Stanford)...and built the first version of the free consumer web based medical portal for WebMD. Hmmm, seems impressive to me...

A lot of people have written about #wellsphere; the links below provide a sample. Feel free to add more to the comments.

How The Health Blogosphere Was Scammed

All’s Not Well Sphere

About that whole Wellsphere debacle...

Will Health Bloggers Foil the Acquisition of Wellsphere by HealthCentral?

My Wellsphere saga and the recent acquisition

Wellsphere and Medical Blogosphere Collide

Health Central Buys Wellsphere: Let the Exploitation Begin!

Phone Conversation - an Overview

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]


At February 02, 2009 3:23 AM, Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

Wow. Still, to be honest, if someone wanted to sell my posts, so long as they made it clear that I wrote them, I'm not sure I'd mind. I mean, we write to be read, surely, and readers are readers.

At February 02, 2009 1:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an awesome roundup article! I am an ex-employee and I'm not surprised at this latest round of shenanigans.

At February 02, 2009 2:52 PM, Blogger The Neurocritic said...

Neuroskeptic - You wouldn't mind if someone else profited from all your hard work and never gave you a dime?

Mark - Thanks. Sounds like your bad experience there was all too typical, unfortunately.

At February 02, 2009 3:55 PM, Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

Neurocritic: Well, not especially. I'd be annoyed at the scam but also pleased that more people were reading it. I mean if I were in this for the money there'd be ads all over my blog by now...

At February 02, 2009 8:06 PM, Blogger Sandra K said...

Neuroskeptic - I like having more readers too, and don't mind sharing with credit (hence my Creative Commons license) but I want my writing on reputable sites. Wellsphere wasn't.


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