Social media, for better or worse, is an integral part of our online lives; it’s how we source information, react to news and communicate with one another. In the earlier days of social networking, apps took a more lenient approach due to their focus on growth. Still, as these apps needed to generate a return for investors through advertising, the walls of censorship began to grow.
Social media apps were never meant to be publishers, only distributors of information, but since these platforms profit from the distribution of information, they’ve been pressured by internal politics, companies and governments to throttle certain narratives while pushing others
As users started to notice the unfair treatment of certain content and personalities, along with criticism that social media was spreading misinformation, the slippery slope of censorship continued to push users to alternative or private platforms.
The issue with moving to other private platforms is that you’re getting the ability to speak freely but to a smaller audience. You can leave a centralised social media platform, but you can’t easily take your content and followers with you.
This is where a new protocol, called Nostr comes in, offering up a possible solution.
What is Nostr?
Nostr is an open protocol that aims to create a censorship-resistant global data-sharing network, primarily focusing on improving social networks. The protocol doesn’t rely on a trusted central server; instead, all users can run a client.
Using this client, users publish content by writing a post, signing it with their private key and sending it to other servers, which then relay that content.
The relays are simple: Their only job is to accept posts and forward them along to relay participants. Users could trust one relay or several relays with their data, and should relays collude to remove their information or block their broadcasts; the user could run their own relay instead.
Users censored from certain relays could even start their own network of relays and share data with one another to create a robust network for redistributing their content.
Take control of your data footprint
Nostr is an open-source project and protocol built around the concept of self-owned account data and identities. Allowing individuals to host and broadcast their own data with the help of private and public key pairings. The Nostr protocol, along with the decentralised identification, enables websites and internet applications to access this data by request of the user to create ‘decentralized’ social networks and cross-site interoperability.
Its project page has more technical details. And the ‘awesome nostr’ page lists almost all current clients and applications, but it’s also quite a large list.
“nostr” stands for “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays” and is an open protocol for censorship-resistant global networks created by @fiatjaf.
Funding for Nostr
While the clients using Nostr continue to grow, having an open-source project means you’re not going to be securing the venture capital backing you would get building a centralised social media platform. However, the former Twitter CEO has spoken about the merits of Nostr and has even opted to fund its development actively.
Jack Dorsey donated roughly 14 BTC, worth about $245,000, to further fund the development of Nostr.
The funds donated by Jack in this grant were sent to FNF (Fiatjaf Nostr Foundation). Then they were later split, and half of the funds were to the DFND (Damus Foundation for Nostr Development), a competing Nostr foundation with different leaderships.
How to start using Nostr
Using Nostr means using one of its clients to access the Nostr network. We will go over the clients and then how you can use the clients.
- Create a private/public keypair using a nostr client like anigma.io, or to astral.ninja. The former will automatically create a private/public key for you. The latter will ask you whether you want to create such a key pair, and if you agree, it will create that for you. This is used as a ‘self-sovereign’ identity in the Nostr system. If you would like a simple method of key creation and management, your best option would be to install a web wallet like Alby. Alby has native Nostr command support, which will help you create a private key which you can then use to derive your public key for later use with various Nostr front ends.
- Save the private key: Once you have created a private/public key pair, you should keep or save the private key somewhere and keep it secret ( think of it like a bitcoin seed). Also, if you lose your newly created private key, you can always generate a new one.
- Create multiple keys if needed: The same key can be used on all nostr clients. If you want to create multiple identities or accounts, you can create new key pairs.
- Update your profile: From the client you’re using, you should be able to update your profile name, picture etc. This depends on the client whether and how much you can update. Typically you can add your name, about me section and profile picture.
- Make posts: The client should also show you some posts by others. Also, it should allow you to create posts, follow others. ( astral damus etc clients do allow you to follow others; anigma.io doesn’t since its like telegram and has public chat rooms).
- Find users: Astral.ninja has a global feed where you can see posts by others. The page nostr.io/stats shows some of the more prolific users. The page damus.io/channels shows some of the more active public channels.
How Nostr fits into the bitcoin stack
Nostr is a completely separate internet protocol; it has nothing to do with bitcoin nor any of the layer two solutions tethered to bitcoin. Nostr doesn’t have a blockchain or a native token and doesn’t provide a transfer of value over its network.
It is merely a tool to relay data to different users and have it recalled to different apps for the purpose of communication. While the underlying tech of Nostr can be used to manage user logins, user profiles and the content that fills those profiles, we already have a micropayment network that works in the Lightning Network and eCash Mints.
It is only natural that Nostr clients would add support for Lightning payments while Lightning wallets would add support for Nostr.
Nostr is not the only social media protocol
As far as the free and open social media protocol goes, there are many competing projects, such as @bluesky and the AT Protocol, Mastodon, Matrix, and there will be many more. While we don’t yet know which one will truly take hold and solidify the thesis is that one will have a chance at becoming a standard like HTTP or SMTP and become a core feature of the internet stack.
While a “decentralised Twitter” might be the jumping-off point as a proof of concept Nostr offers so much more. Nostr could be a foundational core technology standard to make social media and data sharing and, more importantly, controlled data access a native part of the internet.
Protocols like Nostr are not simply aiming to substitute the current social media and data ownership landscape but upgrade it and tackle key concerns of data centralisation and privacy. The hope is that giving people ownership of their data and giving apps permissioned access to it could improve public conversation’s ability and allow technology to truly serve the people, which helps hold governments and corporations accountable.
Not only that, but it opens up the technology stack for the entire world to develop on and create solutions. With that level of possible participation, we could see plenty of innovation that hopefully makes it all a lot more fun and freeing to use the internet, like it once was before its corporatisation.
Do your own research
If you’d like to try out Nostr or want to learn more about it, we recommend checking out the following resources to kickstart your research.
Are you on Nostr?
If you are a Nostr user and want to hang out and chat with us or follow our content on your preferred Nostr front end, feel free to add us using the PubKey below.
7ecd3fe6353ec4c53672793e81445c2a319ccf0a298a91d77adcfa386b52f30dThe Bitcoin Manual’s Nostr Pubkey