How Nostr Can Help Bitcoin Succeed

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter came onto the scene as platforms, not publishers. The difference is that platforms are politically neutral, while publishers are not. Over the last few years, it has become apparent that social media companies will ban users with capriciousness. A market demand has emerged for an actual social media platform on which users will not be censored according to the preferences of some remote third party.

Nostr, or “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays”, is a social media network in which users post so-called “notes”, can follow other users, and can repost notes from other users. While this sounds exactly like Twitter, Nostr is not a platform per se. Rather, it is a protocol–closer in kind to Bitcoin or email than to Twitter or Instagram. As such, developers may build apps on top of Nostr, much like layered applications are built on top of Bitcoin. While Twitter is maintained by a company and a centralized suite of servers, Nostr is decentralized. Therefore, Nostr users do not face the risk of censorship that Twitter users do. 

To use Nostr, you need a public key and a private key (you can see why this technology has grabbed Bitcoiners’ attention). Your public key is analogous to your Twitter handle, while your private key is analogous to your Twitter account password. To search for a particular person Nostr, you need to enter their public key.   

As with Bitcoin, the Nostr protocol is open-source and relies on people with ‘skin in the game’ in order to run. That is, users of Nostr run ‘clients’ on their device of choice. These clients publish content by signing it with their private key, which other servers then receive and relay it forward.

‘Relays’ servers could, in principle, conspire to block a Nostr user’s posts, but the user could then simply run his/her own relay. They could even ally with ‘friendly’ relays and establish an alternative network. This way, censorious relays could easily be defeated in the Nostr ecosystem.

Still, Bitcoiners are understandably attracted to Nostr. Already, Nostr users are adding Lightning wallet addresses to their profiles, allowing users to tip or otherwise send payments to each other.

Nostr recently received a boost in both social and financial capital, when Jack Dorsey donated 14 Bitcoin to Nostr’s development. This came on the heels of Dorsey writing a blog post in which he argued for the necessity of a native Internet protocol for social media:

“The only way I know of to truly live up to these 3 principles [social media must be resilient to corporate and government control, only the original author may remove content they produce, and moderation is best implemented by algorithmic choice] is a free and open protocol for social media, that is not owned by a single company or group of companies, and is resilient to corporate and government influence. The problem today is that we have companies who own both the protocol and discovery of content. Which ultimately puts one person in charge of what’s available and seen, or not. This is by definition a single point of failure, no matter how great the person, and over time will fracture the public conversation, and may lead to more control by governments and corporations around the world.”

Nostr is decentralized, but it does not have its own blockchain or token. Should Nostr succeed, it could strike a lethal blow to those who believe that blockchain technology is required for decentralization. In this way, Nostr could help Bitcoin maximalists in the narrative wars against advocates for alt coins and web3.

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