The crypto industry’s interest in social media alternatives like Nostr has grown amid Mark Zuckerberg’s $24 billion metaverse blunder and the controversies leading up to Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter. Blockchain-friendly protocols like Nostr, Bluesky, Lens Protocol, and Mastodon have welcomed the exodus of Twitter users with open arms.
Former Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is now a financial backer of Nostr, for example. This protocol is already spawning copycats of Twitter, Reddit, and Telegram. Nostr grew rapidly to over a million users within just a few months.
As the largest, fastest-growing ‘new’ social media alternatives of 2023, it’s worth understanding Nostr prior to analyzing its competitors.
How Nostr works
Nostr users create a single ‘account’ to log into every application built on top of the Nostr protocol. As opposed to a permissioned account managed by a social media giant like Facebook, a Nostr ‘account’ is just a Bitcoin-like public key.
Safeguarding the private key to this public key allows the holder to instantly ‘register’ for any app that uses Nostr — with instant porting of all followers across any apps.
Because Notr users follow a public key rather than a corporately-managed account, they simply follow that cryptographic string of characters in any Nostr app. Nostr has earned many endorsements from celebrities, including pro-crypto Edward Snowden, who has criticized governmental pressure on corporations to censor social media.
Read more: What is Nostr and why do Bitcoiners love it?
Nostr’s founder Fiatjaf created the protocol as a series of relays that can transmit data like text messages. Relays remain simple enough to run on an average laptop without relying on any third-party services.
Amid growing pains, unfortunately, a small number of well-capitalized relays have attracted the vast majority of Nostr users. Fiatjaf is actively working on mitigation strategies for this centralizing tendency.
How Nostr compares to alternatives Bluesky, Mastodon, and Lens Protocol
How easy is it to join?
- Anyone can join Nostr by generating a public/private key.
- At press time, Bluesky requires an invitation to join.
- Mastodon requires new users to choose a server, an often confusing process.
Meanwhile, Lens Protocol limits access due to ongoing beta testing. To create a new account, users must be active on the associated protocol Phaver, get on the whitelist, or contribute to Lens Protocol through projects or partnerships.
However, Lens ‘mints’ new accounts as NFTs, so you could buy a Lens account on an NFT marketplace like OpenSea.
Which operating systems does it use?
- Nostr publishes guides for using applications that run on iOS, Android, Desktop, and web browsers.
- A Nostr software client can run on Windows, MacOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
- Bluesky has iOS and Android apps. Its web app is still in pre-beta.
- Mastodon servers usually run on Ubuntu. Average participants can just use a web browser.
- Lens Protocol mostly supports the Unix operating system.
How many apps does it support?
- Nostr has many apps, libraries, and implementations. Many Nostr apps feel Twitter-like or Reddit-like, but it also supports blogging, publishing, and gaming alternatives. Civ Kit is a relatively new marketplace app.
- Bluesky limits itself to providing a Twitter alternative. The app is still in beta.
- Mastodon has official Android and iOS apps. It also lists third-party apps. As an older and more mature ecosystem, Mastodon developers have built on ActivityPub, potentially allowing it to interact with other ActivityPub-based apps.
- Lens Protocol claims to support hundreds of applications. Featured apps show a decent variety, including an NFT marketplace, a content monetization app, a video-sharing app, and a meme generator.
Is it decentralized?
- Nostr aims for decentralization with its user-controlled messaging relays which combat censorship. Like many crypto-friendly projects, it has a pseudonymous creator.
- Bluesky manages in-house servers that most users select automatically when joining. It promises to become more decentralized in the future.
- Mastodon enables users to spin up their own servers or switch between servers.
- Lens Protocol uses Polygon, so it is only as decentralized as Polygon (MATIC).
Does it support digital assets?
- Unlike its alternatives, Nostr enabled Bitcoin payments first, using Bitcoin’s Lightning Network ‘Zap’ payments system.
- Bluesky CEO Jay Graber previously worked as a software engineer for Zcash (ZEC). However, it has no public, immediate plans to integrate digital assets.
- Mastodon doesn’t seem to support digital assets natively. However, it’s difficult to rule out the possibility that a Mastodon or ActivityPub app or server has or could implement it in some fashion.
- Lens Protocol built its protocol on Polygon’s NFT-friendly blockchain.