On January 28th I exposed the tactics of a certain unscrupulous company called Wellsphere. In a nutshell, they lured unsuspecting bloggers to join their network with a series of flattering emails from their Chief Medical Officer, Geoff Rutledge, M.D., Ph.D. The emails suggest that by being featured at Wellsphere, the bloggers would receive higher visibility and more traffic to their blogs. In reality, when the bloggers signed up to join, they unwittingly gave Wellsphere the right to take all of their blogs’ content, aggregate it on Wellsphere and then SELL it to Health Central (without compensating the bloggers a penny). The bloggers whom I spoke with did not notice any increase in their traffic – in fact, since their entire RSS feed was featured at Wellsphere, readers had no incentive to click back to their blogs.
Beyond the shady blog-scraping practices, Wellsphere encouraged bloggers to answer medical questions (regardless of their qualifications to do so) on their site. Health Central’s tagline, by the way, is “trusted, reliable, and up to date health information.” In return, they were offered a “Maven” badge which suggested that they had special authority to do so. One blogger pointed out how unsafe this was:
I’m supposed to be a “Health Maven” in the “General Medicine” group … and I got my qualifications from …. a Cracker Jacks box? Wellsphere made it appear as if I was someone knowledgeable in General Medicine, and no one was checking in to make sure I wasn’t killing someone with bad advice! Dude! In fact, most of the questions which were sent in weren’t being answered at all, or they were being answered by numbos like me. Answers from real medical professionals were meager. Imagine if the readers took Wellsphere seriously, and actually trusted our replies!!!
When I first posted the story, about 60 commenters relayed horror stories of how misled they were by Wellsphere, and how their content was not removed from the site in a timely manner when they asked to cease participation. Twitter lit up with more disgruntlement. I figured that Health Central would have issued an apology to the bloggers who felt betrayed, but instead Chris Schroeder, CEO
of Health Central, had this to say,
“Most bloggers are happy about Wellsphere.”
In an early announcement to the media about the acquisition of Wellsphere, Mr. Schroeder revealed that the blogger content would allow Health Central “to more effectively monetize their advertising” because bloggers tend to come back regularly to the site, thus increasing advertising page views.
The Plot Thickens
So after doing my part to make bloggers aware of what was happening – and let them decide if they’d like to remain members of Wellsphere – I decided to move on. However, yesterday a member of Better Health was sent a flattering email from Dr. Geoff Rutledge inviting her to join Wellsphere. This same blogger had received similar emails over a year ago, had joined Wellsphere, figured out that there was NO value proposition for her or her blog, and requested that her content be removed. Now many months later she receives this email:
I’m writing to give you an update on Wellsphere’s HealthBlogger Network, and tell you about the new and greatly increased benefits of participation in the network. My name is Dr. Geoff Rutledge — I’m a board certified physician who practiced and taught at Stanford and Harvard medical schools before joining Wellsphere. Wellsphere is the fastest-growing online health platform and is now one of the Top 5 consumer health websites, helping nearly 5 million people each month find health and healthy-living information and support.
Several months ago, I discovered your blog while searching for the best health bloggers online. After reviewing your writing, I thought your blog would be a great addition to the network, and sent you an invitation to join in the Nursing community. Since then, the benefits of participation have grown dramatically as the network has grown to nearly 2,000 bloggers, we’ve introduced a variety of blogger widgets and status badges, and the number of visitors has skyrocketed to 5 million per month — and we are still growing fast!
Once you agree to participate, we republish the articles you have already written for your blog (with links back to your blog), so there is no extra work for you to do. Your articles will appear in the Nursing community, and on all the search results and WellPages (topic pages) where your articles match a relevant topic or search query.
I would like to emphasize that YOU will RETAIN FULL COPYRIGHT TO YOUR WRITING <image001.png> the only right you give us is to republish your content on Wellsphere for AS LONG AS YOU CHOOSE. These terms are spelled out clearly on the Health Blogger Network Participation Agreement at http://www.wellsphere.com/bloggerSignUp.email@example.com
When you participate in the HealthBlogger Network, you’ll be eligible for a variety of badges that will recognize you for your achievements and leadership in your fields, including the Top Health Blogger and Health Maven badges (we’ll send you information about how to become a Health Maven, if you choose to do so). Here are some of the options for these badges that are available to you.
“Honestly, I have to say that the widgets I have (Top Health Blogger and Health Maven) help immensely in terms of credibility. …. I have allowed very few widgets on my blog – only the two Wellsphere ones, because it helps me, but even more important, it helps my readers find what I believe to be the BEST health site on the net. Thanks for all that you do!” – Lynette Sheppard
If you have any questions about how this works, or would like to chat about it, please feel free to give me a call at , or send me email to Dr.Rutledge@wellsphere.com
I am astonished that these emails are still being sent, and the bold faced lie at the beginning (“Several months ago I discovered your blog…”) is truly disturbing.
I personally feel that these emails are now bordering on harassment, and that something needs to be done to protect bloggers from continued contact with Wellsphere.
As a point of interest, I NEVER joined Wellsphere, yet here is a screen shot from their website, featuring blog posts about me, my headshot, and my YouTube videos of recent TV interviews where I was a guest.
What do you think should be done next?