Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Obama MySpace Drama

...or should I say "melodrama"?

In 2004, a guy named Joe Anthony created an unofficial fan page for Barack Obama, after hearing his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. "I was just blown away," he's reported to have said.

Thus began Joe's role as a volunteer. For over two years, he posted biographical info, answered emails, and helped to build a MySpace "friends" network of more than 30,000. When Obama entered the race, this gave Obama the largest MySpace presence -- unofficial as it was. The network grew, and as of April 30, it had reached 160,000. Over time, Anthony and the Obama campaign had built an amiable relationship.

But because of the increased growth, Anthony started having a difficult time putting in the long hours necessary to keep the profile up.

At the same time, Obama campaign officials began to become concerned about maintaining the accuracy of the profile, and about centralized control in general... which is vital to a presidential campaign.

So, Anthony asked the campaign to bring him on board as a consultant, and to pay him for his work. The campaign, in turn, offered to reimburse him for his efforts to date, and asked him to come up with a figure. this payment would apparently be a one-time fee, after which the campaign would control the profile. reports that Anthony told them:

I considered the time I had put into it from January 1st of this year, not counting the previous two years. It was about $39,000. Plus I asked that if any fees were to be paid to MySpace by the campaign up to that point in time, those should be shared with me, up to $10,000.

The campaign turned down that number, and eventually decided to ask MySpace to hand over control of the profile to them, which they did.

Anthony says the campaign scheduled conference calls with him to discuss the matter, but "each after another would be postponed at the last minute. This went on for weeks."

"It got to the point where I didn't feel comfortable turning the profile over to the campaign unless they paid for it. This was largely symbolic."


Symbolic of what, Joe? Symbolic of the fact that you've lost sight of the goal? Symbolic of the fact that you apparently have forgotten the definition of the term "volunteer"? Or just symbolic of your righteous indignation?

Don't get me wrong here... If all you say in your email to Micah at TechPresident is true, the campaign botched their handling of this matter, and their relationship with you. Seems like they screwed that up completely.

In the end, though, I have to ask "What were you thinking?"

First, when your hours as a volunteer became unmanageable, why didn't you simply ask the campaign to take over the profile, at no cost to them? That way, all those long hours would be over, and the man you believe should be the next president of the United States would be given a leg up.

Sure, I might have asked the campaign to bring me on as a consultant. But when the campaign asked you to name a figure for a buy-out... why did you?

Why didn't you let the campaign name their own figure? It would have allowed you to make some money, the campaign would have been able to afford it, and you could have maintained your reputation as a volunteer, or at least as a generous, accommodating supporter. It seems to me that -- as a volunteer and a believer in the cause -- this would have been the wise and right thing to do... if, you felt somehow compelled to charge for your previously-volunteer work.

But, you came up with a number. You say you worked 5 to 10 hours a day. Let's average that to 8. There are about 120 days in the first quarter of the year, so that makes 960 hours if you worked 7 days a week. For a total of $39,000, that's about $40.63 an hour. Okay, not bad. I have no idea what a campaign consultant normally makes, but that wouldn't seem to me to be an unreasonably high hourly rate.

Then there's the $10,000 in fees linked to those paid to MySpace. I'm just not getting how that's supposed to work, since you say that's based on fees that were paid to MySpace, not you... but yet, you wanted to share them. You wanted parity with MySpace? Why? Seems like an arbitrary fee to me. Why not just ask to be reimbursed for your own time?

In any event, when the campaign turned down your number, why didn't you make another, lower offer? Or maybe you did, and I'm missing it in all the reports and blogs and emails.

The thing is that at some point in this process, you crossed a line from being an inspired volunteer to being a person who expects to get paid for his work... and then complained when the campaign didn't agree to go along with this new status you felt somehow unilaterally entitled to.

So... when did that happen? When did you stop being a volunteer? When did you stop believing in Barack Obama, and start believing that getting paid was more important?

I would imagine that your response would be "because they bullied me", as you've said elsewhere.

But did they? How and when did they do that? Didn't they offer to pay you something? Just because you and the campaign couldn't agree on a number... does that constitute bullying?

Just because they decided to take control of the profile that you, in principle, wanted them to take control of in the first place... does that constitute bullying?

Campaign professionals?

Again, the flip side of the coin is that you folks with the Obama campaign seem to have handled this very badly indeed.

Chris Hughes at the campaign seems to have been the point man. For those of you who don't know, Chris is the co-founder of Facebook, and serves as the campaign's online organizer.

In Joe's email to Micah at TechPresident, he says:

I was accused of using this profile for commercial purposes. I was threatened that I would be responsible if the profile was deleted (they even followed up via email to be sure I knew it was my fault!) The conversation really was about them taking control of the profile. There was no counter offer, or anything to suggest that they had any intention of paying me anything at all.

Chris Hughes: Why didn't you make a counter-offer?

It sounds to me like you were thinking of a much lower range when you asked Joe to present a number for the fee... and when he came up with nearly $50,000, you.. well, you just wigged out.

You thought he was trying to gouge you.

Now, while the best way to deal with some people who try to gouge you is to strong-arm them, that isn't the case with a high-profile volunteer for your organization-- an organization with very lofty goals and which seems to value inclusion and volunteerism.

Chris, this isn't Silicon Valley, and Joe Anthony isn't some venture capitalist involved in a hostile takeover of your company.

Why did you cancel repeated phone conferences and not talk to Joe about this before asking MySpace to hand over control?

Your actions say a lot about your inability to handle delicate matters, Chris... and I certainly hope that no matter what role you play in the Obama campaign, that you mature very quickly... or that you be denied a role in an Obama administration.

In fact, I believe that Barack Obama should fire you immediately.

Belief is demonstrated through action

Yes, Joe, they wronged you. They screwed up.

But is the point of all your hard work to teach some campaign workers a lesson?

I was under the impression you were doing it to support the Obama campaign and all that it stands for.

You built a gift, Joe. You lovingly hand-crafted it. But when it took longer to build than you thought it would, you asked the recipient to pay you for it... or at least part of it.

Would you do this to a friend? Or to a loved one, say, on Christmas morning?

"Glad you like the toys, kids! But, hey, Daddy found out that they cost a little more than he thought they would. So each of you will need to get a job for the next month to pay me back for that overage."

Sound silly? Sure. But the principle is the same.

When the hours became unmanageable, the right thing to do -- as a volunteer and a true believer -- would be to go to the campaign and say, "I can't handle this any more... Please take it over." If they then offered to bring you on as a consultant, or offered you some amount of money... well, that would be the Icing on your Cake of True Belief.

Either you're a volunteer... or you're not. There's no such thing as a "consulteer".

In other words, it seems that the right thing to do as a real volunteer would be to offer the profile as a contribution to the campaign. That's the kind of thing volunteers do.

Instead, by asking to be paid, you set these events in motion. You took your eye off the ball. Perhaps you never intended to act or look like a profiteer, but a lot of people now see it that way.

Righteous indignation toward the recipient negates any intended altruism. As the old saying goes, never give a gift expecting to one day be repaid.

Mistakes were made:

- Joe Anthony should have offered the profile to the campaign, free of charge.

- Chris Hughes should never have asked Joe to come up with a number for a fee.

- Joe should never have come up with a fee, and should have asked Chris to name a number he felt comfortable with.

- Chris should not have wigged out over Joe's number, and should have simply negotiated with him, while maintaining cordial relations.

- No matter what Chris' counter-offer might have been, Joe should have taken it.

...That is, if things had ever gotten that far.

It all boils down to this: you both screwed up royally. You both acted badly. But, sorry to say, Joe... you started it.

Now, after Chris Hughes is fired from the Obama campaign, let's move on to the real issues, and elect Barack Obama President.

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