Episode 157

Joel Wasserman on lessons learned with Flossbank


March 3rd, 2023

41 mins 56 secs

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About this Episode


Joel Wasserman


Richard Littauer | Justin Dorfman

Show Notes

Hello and welcome to Sustain! The podcast where we talk about sustaining open source for the long haul. Our guest today has been on this podcast before, and we are super excited to have him back on. Joining us is Joel Wasserman, co-founder and Founder of Flossbank and Software Engineer at Google. Today, we’ll find out what happened to Flossbank and what’s happening next as Joel tells the story of how the idea of Flossbank came about, and the challenges and lessons he’s learned along the way. He goes in-depth about the need for funding, the ginormous difference between an open source author and an open source maintainer, and diversity in open source. Download this episode now to hear more!

[00:01:23] What is Flossbank?

[00:05:59] Onboarding can be difficult, and Joel fills us in on some lessons he’s learned.

[00:09:53] Richard brings up a point of finding the right person, and wonders what issues Joel had was because he was the middleman or something else, and if it’s hard to find money for any project in open source. Joel mentions Nadia Eghbal’s book as the best book he’s ever read on the open source ecosystem.

[00:12:58] Justin talks about a blog post Joel wrote last June on “The Flossbank Attempt,” where he made a comment “don’t hesitate to reach out,” and he tells us what other projects are actively asking him for advice.

[00:15:20] We hear what Joel thinks of the benefits of GitHub sponsors and Open Collective are in comparison to his and why they’re able to garner some money, and his thoughts on that part of the ecosystem.

[00:18:26] Joel tells us if there will be any sort of government grants going down the dependency tree and if he’s thought about that kind of money coming into the system and if there are benefits.

[00:22:26] We hear what Joel thinks about the idea the maybe Flossbank was never going to work because there’s isn’t as much altruism in the world from companies and that he’s asking for something that’s impossible.

[00:29:38] Joel talks about payment mechanisms and something cool they did with Flossbank, working with a company called Coil that uses Interledger.

[00:32:13] Joel details his realistic and optimistic view on people wanting to invest in open source and getting money off it, and about diversity in open source.

[00:38:50] Find out where you can follow Joel on the web.


[00:05:04] “What we didn’t know and what we quickly found out is that a lot of companies want to have a relationship with the maintainer they are donating to.”

[00:06:21] “Small companies, startups, are acutely aware of the open source they rely on.”

[00:18:53] “People just take it for granted and they say, “Well, why should I fund it if the next person isn’t funding it?”

[00:22:48] “There’s a ginormous rarely spoken difference between an open source author and an open source maintainer. An author chooses to put that license up. An author has given no promise to working on this, to securing it toward making sure that other companies get what they want, bug fixes, future maintenance, making sure their dependencies, no guarantees.”

[00:24:00] “Open source maintainers are what I’m advocating to get paid and open source maintainers are the ones who are keeping code up to date, making sure it’s secure, making sure the dependencies are up to date, making sure the dependencies are secure, those people are putting in work.”

[00:28:09] “Maintainership is work. It’s a triage of bugs, a triage of feature requests, it’s actual improvements to a package, it’s a long-term commitment, it’s a dramatically different persona and role than author.”

[00:32:26] “You should be giving to your entire open source dependency tree because you don’t know what you depend on, or you don’t know what maintainer needs that money to do their work, to keep their package secured, to keep their package up to date until it breaks.”


  • [00:39:01] Joel’s spotlight is Nadia Eghbal’s book, Working in Public: The Making and Maintenance of Open Source Software.
  • [00:40:01] Justin’s spotlight is the Open Technology Fund.
  • [00:40:19] Richard’s spotlight is the book, Sacred Economics: Money, Gift & Society in The Age of Transition by Charles Eisenstein.



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