HealthCentral’s Acquisition of Wellsphere – Much Ado About Nothing

Unless you’re a part of the health care blogosphere, you probably haven’t been following the incredible firestorm that health care bloggers have created around the acquisition of Wellsphere by HealthCentral. Here’s the cliff notes version:

  • Bloggers receive flattering email from Wellsphere asking to join their Health Care blogger network
  • Bloggers provide their blog feed to Wellsphere
  • Wellsphere aggregates their blog content for months
  • HealthCentral Acquires Wellsphere
  • Bloggers Freak Out
  • Bloggers learn that the TOS gave Wellsphere the right to sell their content
  • Bloggers feel betrayed
  • Bloggers flame Wellsphere and HealthCentral for acquiring them
  • Bloggers pull their blog feeds from Wellsphere
  • ? (still to be written)

Honestly, I feel like bloggers are making much ado about nothing.  Sure, the emails from Dr. Rutledge were incredibly flattering.  I had to literally tell myself when reading them that Dr. Rutledge had never read my blog.  He didn’t really know how good I am at blogging even though his email called me an “expert blogger” and a “true medical expert.”  Seems like many bloggers who got that email couldn’t read through the marketing gloss.  (See the full emails here)

I too joined Wellsphere and my experience was very much like this health care blogger except the part where he feels like a sucker.   I knew what I was getting into.   All that was suggested was getting more exposure for my blog and possibly more credibility and visibility for my name.  My blog being about Health Care IT I didn’t see the promised traffic and so I pulled my blog.  No harm no foul.

I think people are making a bigger deal out of having their content on Wellsphere anyway.  If you’re blog holds any weight, then there are tons of spammers all over the internet that are pulling in your feed and republishing it.  Having it on Wellsphere doesn’t change the value of your content.  In fact, in some ways it can add more value to your content since it links back to your original post.

Sure, I feel bad for those bloggers that didn’t understand what they were getting into.  However, do I think that Wellsphere was unethical in what they did: No.  I also disagree with Dmitriy who said that “Wellsphere epitomizes all that is wrong with the “Health 2.0 Movement.””  There are so many bigger issues with Health 2.0 than this, but I digress.   From my experience, Wellsphere did exactly what they told me they were going to do.  Do I wish they could have driven more traffic to my site?  Yes.  Did it happen?  No.  Oh well, it was worth a try and cost me almost nothing.

The funny part for me about all of this is that just last week I sent an email to a couple wellness educator friends of mine that were looking to creating a wellness website.  I sent them Wellsphere as an interesting example of building a community of people focused on Wellness.  When asked, I told them that Wellsphere was probably VC funded and as such would be looking for exit opportunities.  That’s just how a website like it works.  You build it to exit.  Most common of which is purchase by another company.  It’s just unfortunate that so many bloggers were unaware of the web VC busines model.  Don’t expect this to change anytime soon.

Since I’m the eternal optimist, let’s take a look at a couple really cool things that have happened because of the HealthCentral acquisition of WellSphere:

  • I’ve found a ton of really cool Health Care bloggers that I’d never known before
  • Health Care bloggers have never been more passionate and united in a common cause

Now if we can harness that passion and energy to something as important as health care and wellness, we can certainly do a lot of good.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

About the author

John Lynn

John Lynn

John Lynn is the Founder of the, a network of leading Healthcare IT resources. The flagship blog, Healthcare IT Today, contains over 13,000 articles with over half of the articles written by John. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 20 million times.

John manages Healthcare IT Central, the leading career Health IT job board. He also organizes the first of its kind conference and community focused on healthcare marketing, Healthcare and IT Marketing Conference, and a healthcare IT conference,, focused on practical healthcare IT innovation. John is an advisor to multiple healthcare IT companies. John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can be found on Twitter: @techguy.


  • Excellent addition to the commentary on the subject. I posted a response to your comments, which is reproduced here –
    I am not privy to the behind-the-scenes discussions between PayPerPost and Peformancing, so I cannot testify to the cause-and-effect. I do remember though that Performancing did ship a decent blog metrics package (which I did evaluate) and PayPerPost mostly wanted access to lots of bloggers and their data to promote their full basket of monetization services. But anyways, that is ancient history.

    I would also agree with your comment that there are many more problems in “Health 2.0” that what we see in this Wellsphere-HealthCentral deal. However, IMHO, this case is so far the most visible highlight of the inherent conflict between members and owners of any site that has anything to do with promoting and exploiting the “wisdom of the crowd”. If anything, this will trigger further discussions of who is getting the raw deal, how (un)happy they are with it and how would they react.

    Finally, you are right that we would not have this blowup if more bloggers did homework about what they are getting into. Yet, it was incumbent on Wellsphere and HealthCentral to manage the optics of the blogger relationships and how they are being perceived. Wellsphere and HealthCentral failed miserably in planning, anticipating and (to some extent) responding to the crisis. They created lots of ill will.

    So this will be yet another case study on “crisis management”.

  • I’ll leave my PPP comments for your blog.

    I’m not sure I would term it a conflict, but it’s definitely a major challenge for anyone trying to use the wisdom of crowds to do something. Interestingly crowdsourcing has been one of my other passions the past couple years. I have a feeling someone is going to get the balance right when it comes to health care. I’m just not sure which one has it yet. Wellsphere was doing some good things, but still didn’t create a compelling product for everyone. Maybe the Health 2.0 app will just be built on the back of Facebook or some other existing social network.

    No doubt Wellsphere didn’t anticipate the blogger backlash that they would experience. Honestly, if you were in their shoes would you have expected bloggers to not understand that by providing your feed and having your entire feed published on the site that later they’d wonder about this?

    I’ve seen it happen a number of times where promises were made and the acquisition created a fear amongst community participants that the new owner wouldn’t fulfill the promises previously made. In a crazy way, I can see HealthCentral providing more benefit to a blogger than Wellsphere ever did.

    Saying that, it’s kind of amazing that bloggers are freaking out over it when HealthCentral could be the better blog partner than Wellsphere (since Wellsphere did little for bloggers-from my experience).

    Of course, in a month or less this will all be water under a bridge.

  • Funny you should ask what would have I done in Wellsphere or HealthCentral shoes. I have been in very similar shoes about 3 years ago – note my reference to blog syndication on Trusted.MD. I had to deal with some crazy accusations myself.

    My major learning was that when rolling out anything to bloggers you must over-communicate and prepare that any of your actions would be received in the worst light possible. Only if you are in this mindset you will get all your answers ready and would be able to effectively get them across before people form their opinions. What Wellsphere and HealthCentral have demonstrated is amazing lack of sensitivity and understanding how perceptions spread in the blogosphere. A service for bloggers that pisses off bloggers? What a genius idea!

    As far as the value of “wisdom of the crowd”, I see the realistic applications quite limited. Even in larger Web 2.0 world the current consensus seems to be that wisdom is usually drowned out in noise. In healthcare environment obstacles simply multiply because of the higher stardards – legal, ethical and regulatory…

    Of course once the dust settles I agree there will be something useful left. But IMHO it will be nowhere close to the wild expectations out there.

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