Bitcoin maximalist Jack Dorsey significantly contributed to the popularity of social media platform Nostr overnight on December 14, when he chose to tweet about it. Thousands of Bitcoiners joined the platform thanks to his publicity of the platform, which promises to be a credible decentralized social site that could displace Twitter.
His recommendation gained 428,000 organic impressions. The next morning, Dorsey donated 14 bitcoin (then worth $250,000) to Fiatjaf from Bitcoin gaming company Zebedee. Fiatjaf is the lead maintainer of Nostr and a developer on Damus, Nostr’s leading implementation.
Bitcoiners hastily planned a Nostr conference. It already has hundreds of confirmed attendees scheduled for March 19-21.
So, what is Nostr? And why is the Bitcoin community excited about it?
Uncensored social media with built-in Bitcoin payments
In short, Nostr promises to become a credibly decentralized social media platform that could displace Twitter in the same way that Facebook displaced MySpace. It’s not built on the Bitcoin blockchain per se, but most implementations of Nostr support Bitcoin payments over Bitcoin’s Lightning Network. According to Forbes, Nostr is an elegantly small protocol, a sort of “smart client, dumb relay” model that forms a solid base for building customized social media.
Nostr’s primary innovation is a persistent public key that can be ported to any social media brand and retain its following. Imagine the ability to permissionlessly transfer one’s Instagram followers when creating an account on Snapchat, for example.
NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden echoed Bitcoiners’ excitement, claiming that Nostr could replace Twitter and Instagram. He also affirmed the value of decentralized social media to fight censorship. Snowden alleged that the government put pressure on corporate-owned, centralized social media to curtail users’ speech.
Why the name “Nostr”?
The name Nostr is derived from variants of “nuestro,” a Spanish word meaning “ours,” including the Portugese “nosso.” Nostr is also an acronym: Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays.
Nostr says it will make it easy to find people on social media. Discovery works using public keys that users can append to their existing accounts on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, or Telegram. Notable early adopters of Nostr include Jack Dorsey, Vitalik Buterin, Edward Snowden, and pro-crypto Senator Cynthia Lummis.
Twitter owner Elon Musk did not seem to like the idea of competition. He initially banned accounts that (according to him) had the “primary purpose” of promoting Twitter competitors like Nostr or Mastodon. However, Twitter later backtracked Musk’s decision.
Next steps for Nostr
The relatively small number of Nostr developers are mainly trying to keep up with the influx of users. They’re also working on further integration of the Bitcoin network. Users can already send bitcoin tips to other users. Users can also use Bitcoin’s Lightning Network to change their Nostr usernames.
Developers are interested in using Bitcoin and its Lightning Network to help Nostr relays prevent spam attacks like Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS). The owner of one GitHub repository already published an implementation called “Expensive Relay” which requires users to pay a relaying fee to publish events (imposing a fee is a common tactic to prevent spammers who overload free communication channels).
Nostr is new and very much in development. Bitcoin Magazine called for Nostr to solve issues with public key management like the requirement for users to post keys on Twitter to verify their accounts. Fiatjaf has proposed one way to solve that.
This proposal led to a lively discussion between Fiatjaf and another developer named Kevin Smith. Smith pointed out that users would have to generate all their keys before they can use the first one. This issue came with the possible weakness of potentially running out of keys.
In summary, Nostr is a very simple protocol that underpins a variety of new social media uses. In other words, it can wear a lot of hats. It could theoretically verify ownership of social media accounts even on “legacy” platforms like Twitter if it solves a few public key management problems. Clients can build on top of it to create their own social media properties.
Can it replace Twitter? Is it really a Bitcoin project, or is it just something that excites Bitcoiners due to their desire for Bitcoin use cases? Only time will tell.