As the open source concept has developed it has come to be reflected in our politics.
- In 1999, fans of Bill Bradley set up a webring for him, linking their sites. A Bush campaign lawyer told the Federal Elections Commission that, if the Bradley campaign communicated with any site in the ring, the work of that ring should be a campaign expense counting against legal caps. (This was not entirely illogical. Bush was badly hurt by a GWbush.org slam site run by Zack Exley, now a campaign consultant.) The Bradley people backed off.
- In 2003 Howard Dean's people hired two bloggers, Markos Moulitsas and Jerome Armstrong. The two proposed Dean dump his blog for a Community Network System, which could scale the campaign's intimacy as it grew. Dean rejected the idea, but the two men took their own advice. Their Dailykos.com and Mydd.com are now among the most powerful liberal communities in cyberspace.
- This year an Obama volunteer named Joe Anthony built a Myspace page for Obama which collected 160,000 names. When the campaign decided to take control of the page, Anthony demanded $39,000 for his time. The campaign got control of the page from MySpace and gave Anthony nothing.
Chris Bowers of MyDD says it is high time such work was compensated, given the hundreds of millions going to TV consultants.
Questions of credit and payment have bedevilled open source all through this period. I've described the results as the open source incline. If you want a bottom-up response, in the form of code contributions, you're pushed toward the GPL license.
Campaigns can learn from the open source incline. All political campaigns have both open source and proprietary elements, but on Election Day it's the bigger community which wins. If you want grassroots, nurture them in the way they want to be nurtured.
A $39,000 check in the context of a $100 million campaign isn't much to pay for a 160,000 member community. Seizing control of that community does not guarantee its loyalty, or maintain its value to you.