What Is Nostr? How It Could Transform Social Media

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What is Nostr? How is Nostr different than traditional social media? What does distributed social media mean?

New, decentralized social media platforms have the potential to reduce online censorship and spam, redefine online advertising, and normalize bitcoin use—potentially stabilizing bitcoin’s value. Nostr is a protocol that can act as a platform for decentralized social media.

Read on to learn what Nostr is, how it works, and if it has the potential to revolutionize social media.

What Is Nostr?

Imagine you could subscribe to YouTube channels, share your thoughts with people on Twitter, exchange posts with your Facebook friends, and even pay a local service to landscape your lawn all from a single profile on a third-party social media site. And on top of that, if you decide to switch to another social media platform, you have the option to keep all your existing friends, subscribers, and followers, even if you switch platforms and they don’t. While this isn’t possible yet, it may be one step closer to reality with the recent release of Nostr, a distributed social media protocol—but, what is Nostr and what does distributed social media mean?

In this article, we’ll first examine the motives for creating distributed social media and how Nostr promises to meet these objectives. Then, we’ll analyze the likelihood of distributed social media taking off.

What Is Distributed Social Media?

Censorship is the main problem that proponents of distributed social media hope to address. On conventional social media, the platform owner can ban whomever and whatever they please. And their political agenda or other censorship whims can change abruptly if ownership of the platform changes hands. But if content is hosted by many smaller companies instead of a single tech giant, no single entity can censor the entire platform. This is the vision of distributed social media. 

How Does Nostr Work?

“Nostr” is an abbreviation for “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays.” Nostr is a protocol that defines working relationships among users, “relays,” which are basically servers hosting content, and “clients,” which are apps for viewing and posting content. In a sense, the protocol itself acts as the “platform” where all the servers, relays, and users interact.

Nostr makes it possible for any user to connect to any relay on the network, using any client. It does this using cryptography technology inspired by the Bitcoin cryptocurrency system: Instead of giving you a conventional username and password, Nostr gives you a “public key” that acts as a username, and a “private key” that functions similar to password. The difference is that the server doesn’t need to know your private key to check the validity of the “electronic signature” that it creates when you log in. 

As an analogy for understanding how the login process works, think of logging into your social media account like entering a building that’s protected by a security guard.  With a traditional password system, the guard will only let you in if you give the correct password, so the guard has to know your password.  But Nostr’s approach is more like showing the guard your ID card—the guard can verify that you have a valid ID, even if he’s never seen your ID card before.  The electronic signature that you create using your private key is like your ID card for accessing a distributed social media platform.

Censorship and Content Control

Nostr allows relays to decline posts, so anyone running a server still has control over what is hosted on the server. For example, a certain relay might reject posts that are too large, or that come from certain users. However, if one relay rejects your post, you could just post it to a different relay. Or you could set up your own relay to host your own content so that nobody can censor you. 

Payment Integration

In addition to its social media functions, Nostr can also communicate with Bitcoin’s Lightning network. This makes it possible for users to send each other money—similar to Facebook Pay, but using bitcoin instead of dollars.

Nostr’s Opportunity

So, now that we understand what Nostr is and how it works, let’s discuss if it will really become popular enough to disrupt conventional social media. Some people seem to think so. Jack Dorsey, former CEO of Twitter, donated almost a quarter-million dollars to Nostr’s developers, and other public figures, such as Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) have voiced their support for the new platform.

At least part of their optimism about Nostr may be due to the turmoil at Twitter, which creates an opportunity for platforms. Elon Musk’s recent takeover of Twitter precipitated a large turnover of both employees and users. Proponents of Nostr see it as a decentralized alternative to Twitter, positioned to become Twitter’s replacement

What Is Nostr? How It Could Transform Social Media

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Emily Kitazawa

Emily found her love of reading and writing at a young age, learning to enjoy these activities thanks to being taught them by her mom—Goodnight Moon will forever be a favorite. As a young adult, Emily graduated with her English degree, specializing in Creative Writing and TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), from the University of Central Florida. She later earned her master’s degree in Higher Education from Pennsylvania State University. Emily loves reading fiction, especially modern Japanese, historical, crime, and philosophical fiction. Her personal writing is inspired by observations of people and nature.

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