OrganizedWisdom: Much Ado About Very Little

Reading time: 6 – 9 minutes

This article was written by Hope Leman.

Consumer health sites are all over the Web and more and more of the content they are producing is working its way into search engine results on health-related topics. Some of this material is solid enough, but much is simply banter or commiseration of one heathcare consumer to another. Knowing ahead of time about these sites can save power searchers in health matters time and prevent ill-considered clicking on what is almost certainly likely to be fluff or outright rubbish.

OrganizedWisdom is one such consumer health site and indeed if you go by its notable presence at conferences such as Health 2.0, it is a market leader in this space. It certainly excels at parlaying a bargain basement marketing gimmick, its WisdomCards, into a reputation for business savvy.


On its home page, the peel away top right corner reveals that WisdomCards are “Your guide to the best health resources” and touts “We do the Searching for you!”


Now, I don’t really get the appeal of the whole WisdomCard thing. Basically, each WisdomCard is simply a page of results organized in much the same way as you might find on MedlinePlus, say, or RightHealth.

about-wisdomcardMoreover, the “hand-crafted by experts” part doesn’t really inspire confidence. Take the WisdomCard for ALS, for instance. Clicking on “About this WisdomCard” reveals that the card was contributed by Tonya J. and reviewed by Pat. However, there is no information about who Tonya J. or Pat are. I was able to find information about the composition of the OrganizedWisdom Physician Review Team. Consisting of four medical doctors, OrganizedWisdom’s Physician Review Board is “responsible for training, educating and guiding all our Guides. In addition, we take great care in hiring people who have extensive health backgrounds, personal experience with health issues, or who may have served as caregivers, health advocates or health professionals.”

Nevertheless, given that credibility is a fairly basic component of consumer health searching on the Web, it is fairly amazing that OrganizedWisdom has received such positive coverage in the business press (the rah-rah, go team buzz it generates in such venues as the Health 2.0 conference is less surprising).

For instance, on the basics of cross-referencing OrganizedWisdom falls flat. Case in point: You can call up a WisdomCard on ALS provided that you call it ALS and not Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and we are told once at the ALS WisdomCard to, “Try also: Muscular Dystrophy; Myasthenia Gravis; and …” (trails off there) but not Lou Gehrig’s Disease, which does not have a WisdomCard of its own, and not Motor Neuron Diseases, which is a topic allocated to a WisdomCard. And on that card you do at least get the last names of the contributor and the reviewer. The Motor Neuron Disease WisdomCard was contributed by Elisa Carter. According to her (self-listed?) health experience, she has spent 15 years working in the medical field as a Supervisor in a Hospital Admissions Department and has managed administrative staff for a large multi-physician office that included pediatricians, a cardiologist and an internist. The Motor Neuron Disease WisdomCard was approved by TaraS. According to her (self-listed?) health experience, “Her medical knowledge comes from years as a medical secretary and in administration for physicians’ offices specializing in internal/pulmonary medicine, orthodontics and pediatrics. She has also served as a health advocate and caregiver for people with disabilities, a role that brought her to a nuanced understanding of Web health search and online research.”

I am not against consumer health sites. Indeed, I get rather impatient with the persnickety attitude some in the medical library community take towards them. But it is unnerving to think that the “serial entrepreneurs” (as founders Steven Krein and Unity Stoakes style themselves) can generate such hype on the basis of some quite sloppy, not ready for prime time stuff as is on OrganizedWisdom. Call in a librarian, guys, to inject some order into the currently messy state of affairs in your WisdomCard world.

I decided to try to determine what qualifications guides (the term appears to cover both contributors and reviewers) must meet. The page Become a Guide outlines a three-step process to apply to become an OrganizedWisdom Guide. First you register with the site, then you fill out a Guide Application, providing as much information as possible about “any related experience, whether in paid or volunteer work, that will contribute to your success. OrganizedWisdom Guides need to be self-motivated, well organized, able to discriminate between good and bad information, and able to check their own work. And yes, spelling and attention to detail counts.” Applicants then take an open book test. At the bottom of the page is a list of reasons OrganizedWisdom rejects Guide applications:

  • No relevant experience.
  • Misspellings or poor grammar on application.
  • Incorrect answers on Open Book Test.
  • Applicant did not check “I am over 13 years old.”
  • Applicant did not check “I agree to the Guide Terms of Service.”
  • Applicant did not provide full name, address and telephone information which we need for payment verification.
  • Applicant does not live in the United States (sorry, we can only accept U.S. applicants).

Although the results on the WisdomCards are acceptable, they are not noticeably better in terms of links or richness of multimedia content than you would find on RightHealth and certainly lack the authoritativeness of MedlinePlus. Additionally, the web site has has navigation problems. For instance, it not always clear when you are in a WisdomCard nor how to get to one, except by browsing through an alphabetical list, and even that is not reliable as there seemed to be a WisdomCard for the man Lou Gehrig but not for the disease named after him, but the biographical entry does not appear to be in the alphabetical list and so on.

All in all, much ado about very little in the case of OrganizedWisdom.

Additional health search resources are listed in the Highlight HEALTH Web Directory.

About the author: Hope Leman writes about Health 2.0 and the e-patient movement at Significant Science. She is also a writer for AltSearchEngines, which covers hundreds of alternative / niche search engines. Hope is a research information technologist for a health network in Oregon and is also Web administrator of the grants and scholarship listing service ScanGrants.

About the Author

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  1. Hope,

    We appreciate your review and feedback. Being a growing start-up the critiques, suggestions and criticisms that come from our users, other professionals and those who are active in the space are invaluable. They help us better understand what’s working, what needs improvement, and how we can keep improving to build a truly great service to help people get better health information.

    I’m pleased to say that most of the issues you pointed out we have already been in the process of improving or are being addressed. In fact, this week, we are launching a much improved version of our WisdomCards that we think will improve some of the issues you raised in your post. We’d welcome your feedback once we launch the changes.

    Additionally, one of the great things about being a human powered search service and having guides who are constantly updating our WisdomCards is that we can make improvements immediately. For example, we added ALS as a related topic on Motor Neuron Disease within minutes of seeing your blog post. Additionally, many users recommend great links and suggestions and the community help us make the WisdomCards better everyday.

    We also were able to quickly check on the redirects through to ALS you mention, and here’s what we found: Lou Gehrig’s disease does in fact redirect to ALS, as does amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. If you search for “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” you do indeed get the ALS WisdomCard, just as you will if you search for “Lou Gehrig’s disease.” That being said, we are working hard to simplify a few of the features that users have found confusing such as the “Try also” and some of the redirecting issues.

    Finally, I’d like to mention that we love librarians and have found they often make the best guides which is why so many have contributed over the past 3 years. We are actively recruiting more librarians now to help us as Guides and as reviewers. We welcome all the help we can get from experts, patient advocates, search experts, researchers, and librarians. Anyone who is interested can apply on the Become a Guide link you mentioned. There is a thorough approval and training process with certification requirements from our physician team.

    We’re very proud of our team and the work we are doing. We have a big mission and we are very passionate about doing great work. We recognize we have quite a bit of work to do, but with useful feedback, and a lot of hard work we will keep innovating and improving everyday.

    Thanks again,

    Unity Stoakes

  2. Hi, Unity. Thank you for your very nice note. I got a note this morning from an industry professional commenting on OrganizedWisdom thus, “I submitted that to their feedback form and went to bed – late. When I awoke – early, it was done and part of the site! It had the name of the author and the MD she reported to. It had her contact info, so I emailed her, and she emailed me back quickly and personally…”

    Thank you so much for so incredibly quickly updating the ALS material. That is important and much appreciated.

    Also, good for you for recruiting librarians—take note librarians and other information professionals. This is a marvelous opportunity to help shape a tool. I just love companies that are open to input and feedback from medical librarians that way. DeepWeb Technologies and its search engine Mednar is likewise open to input. I hope medical librarians will take advantage of these openings to influence the development of widely used tools like Mednar and OrganizedWisdom. Becoming a guide sounds like an ideal opportunity for an early career librarian to develop some real world experience in cataloging and consumer health and contribute to the betterment of information provision in health matters.

    Thank you again, Unity.