Episode 12

Funding of open source communities with Benjamin Nickolls


October 1st, 2019

48 mins 41 secs

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About this Episode

Episode Summary

In this episode of the Sustain Our Software podcast, Benjamin Nickolls talks with the panelists about the potential for an open source community that is self-sustaining. Benjamin helped create Octobox, a notification system for GitHub, which helps filter messages that one receives through GitHub.

Benjamin and his partner created Octobox hoping it would be a model of a sustainable open source project, and after 9 months of working on it full time they have been able to step away from it as it continues to pay for its own hosting and software development. The money that they received from the community was donated back into the community to be able to experiment with paying for development in the open source crowd. There are still times when they need to go back in and maintain it, but for the most part it is a self sustaining software.

Benjamin explains that as they tried to increase the amount of people paying for their services they noticed that there was organic growth that was occurring so they decided to step back and let it continue to grow on its own. Benjamin and his partner are both interested in seeing how Octobox can lead the way in a new way to create open source development and be an example for effective sustainability and maintainability.

Before Octobox, Benjamin and his partner created Libraries.io which helped people search open source software to find what is being used the most by the community. This has stemmed research about the ecosystem of open source software. Open source projects are an extremely diverse thing coming from different builders, maintainers, and funders. Donations, paid services, as well as grants have been the best source for funding for his projects. Diverse funding has created better stability.

They discussed the different ways of funding and its benefits through different platforms. Codesponsor was created to help make funding more acceptable on the open source marketplace although there were many critics. GitHub sponsors has been created to promote individual sponsorships for developers similar to how Patreon works.

Benjamin is wary of sponsoring individuals because of possible burnout or the individual could feel over committed to the project and will not work on anything else. The lack of diversity in sponsoring an individual compared to sponsoring groups and teams of people is problematic because of this tendency to get burned out before the project is complete.. He stresses throughout the podcast the importance of diversity in every aspect of developing to maximize sustainability.

Benjamin wants to start seeing a push of funding towards developers who are creating products that aren’t as visible to the community instead of all the funding going towards those who are building off of the less seen projects and have a bigger name in the open source community. If those who are able to receive money through open source projects are able to put it back into the community, there will be a more stable and self-sustaining environment for developers.

The panelists discuss how open source communities have been driven by hobbyists in the past, but the need for change is coming because of the dependency that has been created on these communities. Simply giving those developers what they have received in the past may not be sufficient now that it is a core part of almost every application.


  • Richard Littauer

  • Eric Berry

Joined by special guest: Benjamin Nickolls




Richard Littauer:

Eric Berry:

Benjamin Nickolls:

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