Goodbye Tidelift, Hello Octobox

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.

While there is still a disconnect in the exchange of value between open source users and maintainers we believe that the community can solve many of its own problems with a little more context and better communication. This theory follows Elinor Ostrom’s alternative strategies to solving the issues discussed in ‘Governing the Commons’ helpfully summarised by Nadia last May (thanks for the kick Nadia ❤). Our next company will focus — in the first instance — on building tools as a community, for the community to overcome these challenges.

You may already be familiar with our first project: Octobox.

Octobox was launched December 2016 as a reaction to an issue Andrew had as a maintainer of number of popular open source projects: the constant stream of notifications that needed triaging and following up. Octobox helps him spend less time managing notifications in much the same way Gmail helps him spend less time managing email:

Octobox.io: untangle your GitHub notifications.

Since its launch octobox.io has helped another ten thousand developers manage over three million notifications and the project has been downloaded over 350 thousand times by developers hosting their own versions. Octobox is now one of the most popular open source tools on GitHub.

Octobox already has a dedicated community of maintainers, contributors, supporters and sponsors. Our first priority is to begin building a sustainable income, for ourselves and our community. Our second is to demonstrate that our approach is repeatable and scalable, proving that we can solve this problem for ourselves.

Andrew and I believe fundamentally in testing our assumptions and backing up our decisions with data. Today you can help us with our first piece of research:

Do you prefer supporting a commercial provider, or the community itself?

We are expanding the scope of Octobox and offering new, paid enhancements for private repositories on octobox.io. What you pay for does not change. But how you pay will have consequences for those who support the project:

Andrew and I have created a new company Octobox Ltd. This company will operate octobox.io and will develop and support Octobox as an open source project. Octobox Ltd. will provide private repository access to those who donate an equivalent sum (or more) to the community as pay directly through our alternate channels. In addition the company will pledge at least 15% of its revenues for use by the community to further the open source project, forever.

The Octobox project will continue to collect donations via Open Collective and operate a transparent ledger of income and outgoings for the project — including, for the time being, the costs of hosting Octobox.io. When it is able the project will pay maintainers for their time, including time spent operating Octobox.io.

Either way this as a win-win for us. As part of the Octobox community we want to see Octobox become a sustainable project. As members of the wider open source community we want to prove to ourselves (and to you) that we can overcome these challenges together and become an example for others to follow.