In October 2018 Andrew and I began an experiment in open source sustainability. Today we’re drawing a line under that experiment with one final gesture: $10,000 to support the software that supports us.

Octobox is donating $10,000 to its dependencies through Flossbank

For nearly four years Octobox.io has provided Andrew and myself with a vehicle to explore issues concerning the sustainability of open source software. We began our first experiment, creating an open source business and we pledged at least 15% of our revenues to support the community. Within six months Octobox had over 100 paid accounts that brought in thousands of dollars a month in revenue. We refunded…


Last time we sent out an update we were rolling out comment threads on Octobox.io. Today we’re adding support for reviews and reviews comments, and making this the default experience for users of Octobox:

Octobox now supports reviews, review comments and comments on reviews (they’re not the same thing!).

But that’s not the subject of this post.

No, today we are making good on a commitment that Andrew and I made when we decided to work full-time on Octobox.io: to make Octobox an example of how the open source community can solve many of the issues surrounding its sustainability.

Octobox is in a privileged position: we exist as an edge node in the software dependency…


TLDR: We’re adding issue:write and pull_request:write access to Octobox so that you can comment on issues and pull requests from Octobox.io (or your own instance). We’re also helping onboard new users and adding auto-scaling to get you moving quicker.

To get you up to speed: back in October Andrew and I left Tidelift to work full-time on Octobox, in November we launched Octobox on the GitHub Marketplace and last month we announced a change in the way Octobox.io will be priced in order to create a more sustainable future for the project.

Today we’re releasing a number of features for…


TLDR: If you currently use Octobox.io to manage notifications on private repositories then — from Monday — you will need to pay $10/month for each user or $100/month for each organisation to continue to do so.

Let’s start from the top: Andrew Nesbitt and I have been working together on Octobox.io for the past six months, full time. Octobox is the tool for developers working on GitHub who find notifications infuriating. …


This article first appeared on Open Collective, it has been re-published here with the permission of Pia and the Open Collective team:

Ben & Andrew have been working in open source sustainability since 2015. Their first project together, Libraries.io, tracked the most popular packages in open source software. They used the data collected to identify what we now call ‘digital infrastructure’ and to highlight projects at risk — the project still exists but they are not involved anymore.

These days they work full-time on their open source application Octobox.io through their company Octobox Ltd. Octobox is an application that helps…


On October 6th 2017 Andrew Nesbitt and myself joined Tidelift, a new company that was formed in May that year. Twelve months later we’re set to leave Tidelift and begin a new company with some similar goals.

There’s not much we need to say about our time at Tidelift other than we accepted the risk of joining a new company and it didn’t work out. What we will say is that during our time at Tidelift we had the opportunity to evolve our own thinking about what open source sustainability means and how we can have a positive impact today.


I’ve been developing digital products for my entire adult life. I didn’t even know I was doing it to begin with. It took alpha-gov and later the Government Digital Service to really give teeth to the concept of the ‘product manager’, at least here in the UK. At which point I self-identified with and subscribed to that world view.

GDS was built under the mantra ‘because user needs’. This became the war-cry of pretty much everyone that was directly involved and those that watched from the sidelines in awe of what GDS achieved.

But that’s not enough for me anymore.


In my last two posts I rejected the notion that open source projects are a public good. I then identified some of the challenges that open source projects have to navigate and charted some of the courses projects have taken to become sustainable. I signed off with the simple question:

Can we do better?

Can we build a future where open source maintainers can choose to leave the work they do for the work they love without having to become a sales team, a SaaS provider, and a support desk all at once? Can we build a network of open…


In my last post, I rebutted the dangerous thought that in economic terms an open source project is a ‘public good’.

History has already shown us this is an expensive mistake to make. We must consider both the community and the code as one. That — in turn — forces us to think more generally about the sustainability of the community, and the sustainability of the project as a whole.

When we talk about sustainability, we’re talking about the project’s capability to withstand changes. …


Last month Andrew and I visited both coasts of the US to talk about the sustainability of open source software. It was great to see such a wide and diverse group of people willing to bring their thoughts and experience to bear upon this problem. With so many now engaged I think it’s time to start picking at the detail and throwing some ideas about.

Why do we need sustainable open source software? My previous posts and very many others have established that not all open source projects are equal, that a small number of them keep us warm, keep…

Benjamin Nickolls

Product guy at @octobox. Formerly @tidelift via @librariesio and @dependencyci. Part time game designer and co founder of @atpcardgame.

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