Rita doesn’t dig us

Rita Vine, of SiteLines, did a write-up on Healthline, and found us lacking. Some of her comments have merit; unfortunately, many appear to be unfortunate misinterpretations. Rita doesn’t appear to allow comments on her blog, so I’m addressing her issues/comments here, in the open, in an attempt to start a dialog (that with any luck, will last for many years). (As I said at launch, the only way we’ll get better is by getting your feedback, and while I don’t know Rita, she certainly appears to have a credible background.)

Rita says:

Healthline relies principally on content from popular pre-existing 3rd party .com sources that could be obtained from any commercial search engine.

That is correct. While we have paid (handsomely) to license content from ADAM and Multum to help ensure that our first result is always doctor authored and/or doctor reviewed content (for the topics ADAM and Multum cover), we are a web search engine. Think Google, but just Health. Or think WebMD, but the web instead of only their walled garden.

Rita says:

The first link, Lung cancer – small cell (Doctor-Reviewed information) led to a brief definition of the term, reviewed by Allen J. Blaivas, D.O., Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School, Newark, NJ, and updated in early 2005.

Actually, if you return to the page via the above link, you’ll see that there is an entire article. You’ll also see that, using our taxonomy concepts, we’ve put it into the context of lung cancer, and return HealthMaps, and related articles and news.

Rita says:

A small unlinked logo on the right side of the page suggested that the content was derived from A.D.A.M., a popular consumer health encyclopedia which is also used in Medline Plus and many others. A close comparison revealed exact duplication of content, and attribution to Blaivas, in both the Healthline entry and the A.D.A.M. entry.

Exactly; all of our licensed, hosted ADAM content includes their branding. Based on your feedback, we’ll make that logo clickable, to include information about ADAM, their URAC accreditation, etc., in our next build/push tentatively scheduled for next weekend (10/27++).

Rita says:

Returning to the list of top results in Healthline.com for lung cancer, I wondered about the inclusion of lung cancer links from the site Worldhistory.com. What’s the link between lung cancer and history? Answer: nothing. The site is simply a domain name that repurposes the content of the Wikipedia, word for word.

Interestingly, Wikipedia content can be hosted (for free) by anyone and monetized (with no revenue share) by anyone. While the current debate on wikipedia (citizen encyclopedia vs. “professional” encyclopedia) is outside of our discussion’s scope, we will eliminate worldhistory.com from our index and crawl Wikipedia directly to avoid confusion around the source of the content. Thanks for pointing this out.

Rita says:

Most of the remaining links on the Healthline search results page represented commercial sites such as Medicinenet.com, Healthwise (in this case repurposed through the Everett Medical Clinic, a chain of private medical clinics in Washington State), and Emedicine.com — three popular commercial information sites whose content is repurposed in many other information sites, all well-linked in major search engines.

As mentioned above, we’re a health web search engine. This includes both for profit and not-for-profit organizations. No special effort has been made to crawl one type of site to the exclusion of the other, etc. Furthermore, our search results do not include paid inclusion, affiliate codes, or any other source of monetization. My thoughts on undisclosed advertising/paid inclusion have not changed since last December; if we ever do them (and there is no consideration for such a thing on the table), we will provide transparency. Not because we have to (as others have successfully shown), but because I believe it’s the right thing to do.

Rita says:

The news links are derived from general news sources repurposed from Topix.net, a well-known commercial provider of news services.

Correct. In addition to licensing ADAM and Multum, we’re also working with Topix (which is indicated everywhere on our site where Topix provided news headlines appear).

I’m not sure I understand the issue you have with advertising. Is your fundamental believe that only ad-free content can be trusted? If so, unfortunately, that would put many companies out of business; unlike MedlinePlus, not all of us have the benefit of having our efforts funded by U.S. taxpayers!

Rita says:

I don’t mind companies like Healthline trying to market themselves with a little puffery during launch (like asserting that the site was “created in collaboration with 1,100 physician specialists”) but it’s important for reviewers not to believe everything in the press kit. Clearly the vast majority of those “physician specialists” in Healthline come from somewhere else, likely the 3rd party content providers who supply much of the Healthline-branded content.

This is probably the most upsetting piece of the review. First, we don’t claim anyone else’s content as our own. ADAM is labeled ADAM; Multum as Multum; Topix as Topix (and the content publisher, be it the WSJ, NYTimes or whoever). There is no content anywhere on our site that’s “branded Healthline”.

More importantly, Rita (who to the best of my knowledge never contacted our company nor our PR agency), appears to have misunderstood who those 1,100 physicians are and how they’ve been involved with the company.

To wit, going back to our yourdoctor.com days in 1999, the company contracted with 1,100 doctors to help:

– Build our 3000 HealthMaps
– Build our 40,000 node taxonomy
– Build out 800,000 word synonymy
– Build out a ton of proprietary content that we haven’t yet put on line (which will be Healthline-branded [grin])

Said another way, we’re not counting doctors that may have written content on sites that are in our index or content that we’ve licensed, in our count of 1,100 doctors, as Rita’s write-up implies.

Interestingly, all of these assets, the very things that make our search different (and based on most reactions I’ve read thus far, better in the minds of early site visitors) are completely ignored by Rita. It’s possible that she did not see them, but the HealthMaps and Broad/Narrow/Related search options are right there at the top of the lung cancer SERP, and I’m hardpressed to believe that Rita doesn’t believe they add at least some value. (For others who might be interested, the HealthMaps will be larger and more readable in the build we’ll launch this weekend.)

Rita, if you’re reading, I hope the above was useful in understanding what we’re doing and saying, vs. what may have been written about us, and what you may have understood.

Again, the point of this post isn’t to “prove Rita wrong”, but to acknowledge a couple of Rita’s good suggestions, and point out where I believe she may have misinterpreted what we’re trying to do and what assets we’re using to do it with. I hope we can continue this exchange, blog-to-blog, by phone, or in-person; whatever makes sense.

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5 comments on “Rita doesn’t dig us
  1. Rita Vine says:

    Hi from Rita Vine.

    Thanks for the information you posted to your site about my review of Healthline. Unfortunately, my blog gets a lot of comment spam, so I’ve turned the comment option off, but I quoted your response in a followup post today — some additional thoughts on health information search tools — at http://www.workingfaster.com/sitelines/archives/2005_10.html#000361 to add to our debate.

    http://si20.com/auth?uid=252 (links to my spam-blocked email)

  2. Tony Gentile says:

    Hey Rita –

    Thanks for dropping by, and for your continued thoughts. I’ve dropped you an email at your specified address.


  3. Anonymous says:

    As an academic health sciences librarian interested in the highly-competitive (and financially lucrative) world of search, I use my own blog – UBC Google scholar blog – to debate some of the issues raised by Rita Vine. I’ve read Rita’s review, Tony’s comments on it as well as the follow-up.

    My own analysis and review of Healthline (HL) will be available on my blog next week. In the meantime, I have a few comments for your consideration:

    1. Dialogue with health librarians – first, I think it’s great that you read Rita’s review of Healthline, and responded. I find that search engines don’t read our reviews of their products. By the way, you could hardly do better: Rita is a leader in around search engines and what they can do for librarians and our users such as health consumers and patients.

    2. Health search engines & librarian conferences – have you ever considered speaking with health librarians at one of our conferences? Librarians lead industry opinion with respect to what search tools are the best on the market, both free and subscription-based, commerical tools.

    Regarding content Healthline looks sound. Love the visual “Healthmaps” – though in all honesty do you believe consumers will use it to find information? I doubt it, but perhaps your focus groups suggested otherwise.

    Finally, your site features some excellent content from trusted sources; the mix of clickable links to health channels, news and searchable website content is fine. However, Rita is correct when she says that much of your content is available elsewhere, like on MEDLINEplus.

    As a Canadian health librarian, I would like to see more Canadian content and an ability to search for that content. This is one area where MEDLINEplus is weak for us in Canada.

    Dean Giustini
    UBC Biomedical Librarian
    Vancouver General Hospital
    Vancouver Canada

  4. ketan1y says:


    I too responded to Rita, regarding her comments and how she spoke of GoldBamboo (http://goldbamboo.com)
    While we are still in beta or as one of our founders says “perpetual beta” and have yet to have our coming out party, I was encouraged with your blog response and followed your lead. You can read my response to Rita (http://goldbamboo.com/healthblog) I would welcome a dialog about health vertical search. feel free to contact me if you are interested. Good Luck with Healthlines.


    Ketan C Patel

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