It seems as if much of the discussion online about the Obama MySpace page has gotten mired down in people attacking either Joe Anthony or the Obama campaign, and it is missing something much bigger. The event was but one small example of a clash of cultures, a clash between volunteer driven bottom up activities and paid top down controlled activities. As the Internet empowers more people to take action on their own, we will see more clashes like this.

At the Media in Transition conference, there were discussions about historical contexts. We can look at the Summer of Love when Free Love was the rage, and see how it applies to today when free information is all the rage.

Woodstock started off as a commercial enterprise. An heir to a drugstore and toothpaste manufacturing fortune hooked up with a record company executive and two other people to create Woodstock. Things spiraled out of control until it became a free concert and a precursor to Altamont.

More recently, we see legal battles between groups like the MPAA and RIAA trying to control the distribution of copyrighted materials, going after file sharing companies, individual students, and even sites like Digg. We see a billion dollar lawsuit between Viacom and Google’s YouTube.

Google, themselves, are out there profiting off of all the volunteer driven bottom up activities. They index websites that have been freely put up and make money off of the searches they provide. MySpace is predicted to be worth $15 billion in three years. How did they get there? All the free content created for them by MySpace users. Clearly Rupert Murdoch has done well on his $580 million acquisition.

So, Joe Anthony has spent two years tending to a MySpace page that created value for Rupert Murdoch and for Barack Obama. At some point, issues came up about who has what control over the page and what sort of compensation should be tied to that control. The negotiations didn’t work out well, and now everyone is looking at what happened.

Wikipedia, another organization that benefits greatly from volunteer driven bottom up activities, defines the Gift Economy as “an economic system in which goods and services are given without any explicit agreement for immediate or future quid pro quo. Typically, a gift economy occurs in a culture or subculture that emphasizes social or intangible rewards for generosity”

That definition was a gift to Wikipedia. I hope that the person who wrote those words has at least gotten adequate “social or intangible rewards”. This blog post is, in part, a gift to Google and I sure hope I get some “social or intangible rewards” for the blogging I do. It seems as if Joe Anthony participated in the gift economy as well, yet the rewards, social, intangible, or economic appears to have been illusive.

The gift economy is a great thing. Many of the great things in our country and our world have been a result of the gift economy. Yet we all still need to feed ourselves, pay our rent or mortgage, pay for our children’s education, and so on. You can’t do this on karma alone. There is the old saying, “Follow your dreams and the money will follow”. For my sake, for Joe Anthony’s sake, for the sake of so many who have poured their hearts and souls into campaigns, past and present, I hope it is true.