Cryptocurrency: Coiners Going Nuts Over Comms, Rocks, and Fees

grarpamp grarpamp at
Thu Feb 16 22:29:08 PST 2023

With Bitcoin Integration, Nostr Could Redefine Social Media

Incorporating many of the values inherent in Bitcoin, the Nostr
protocol could grow into a social media platform that better serves
its users...

Despite the rapid rise of Bitcoin-focused conversation happening
there, Nostr is not a social medium. Nostr is a social-serving, open
protocol intended for liberated speech and communication.

The main point of distinction here comes down to this tool’s
indifference, at least compared to many popular social platforms.
Though the tech is fundamentally different from Bitcoin (more on this
later), there’s key overlap: Nostr doesn’t care who you are, whether
you follow a set agenda or how often you’ll feed an algorithm with

Nostr acts more like aspiring, decentralized tech that may incentivize
truth — with the help of Bitcoin.

Censorship is used to govern and mediate many social media platforms
and services. The guardrails in place may feel arbitrary to consumers,
prescribing a set of rules that differ from a user’s core values.
Incentives are driven by the dollar — by companies run by fiat
currency (which is issued by a government, and therefore inextricably
tied to it).

There’s increasing weariness of algorithms aligned with monetary
incentives and the entities running them that own our information.
It’s easy for users to lose trust in advertisers and influencers
alike, as their motives fuel the platform but remain unclear. I
believe this comes down to the role of the user; we’re not always part
of the collective that’s building it. And when we do contribute, we
may not be profiting fairly — if at all.

On traditional social platforms, users who aren’t bothered by
censorship may still feel overwhelmed by bots and spam. Others may
flock to social platforms for gaming and community support, only to
dodge and sift through scam messages. Algorithms are so in sync with
our behavior and thought patterns that it’s becoming increasingly
difficult to separate the product from the consumer.

We saw these sentiments unfold over the past year with Elon Musk’s
takeover of Twitter and how divisive that was. We’ve seen it in
kickback after Meta’s rebrand. Social media can be scary or divisive
at best — but despite all of this, we still use it. So, for
connection, growth and building… where should we go?

Of course, there are quality, encrypted communication platforms which
offer more shielded, secure interactions… but I wouldn’t define these
as “social networks” either. They often function as vehicles for
private, secure communication instead of shared spaces.

First, let’s unpack this a bit and explain what Nostr is and is not,
because to think it solves all of the problems of traditional social
media may be somewhat naïve.

Nostr is for developers. It’s an open-source project for builders that
serves as a broadcast platform and content hub aggregate. From the
architecture alone, we can start to differentiate it from Twitter or
any other existing platform.

This protocol is newly, actively developed — so while it tugs at the
root of topics like free speech and privacy, the tech itself is in its
nascent stages. Nostr aims to decentralize private communications and
data while allowing us to interact in new ways. For all of those
reasons, we should learn about it — perhaps in the same way some of us
should have learned about Meta products before dishing our

With Nostr, data is stored on relays. Anyone can run their own relay,
which acts like a personal server or channel. Users can be in charge
of their own relays and run them with very little cost upfront — but
more on monetization later.

Users can kick people off of their relays, but there are various
relays that individuals can join. If a relay owner doesn’t want to
host a person’s messages, that user can simply move to another one.
This is a key differentiator from censorship on Twitter or Meta, where
posts and accounts can be removed or frozen for not conforming to the
platform’s centrally-operated rulebook.

Any user can build their own client, which is the program or
application that hosts messages and information. Clients can be used
to access the internet and broadcast posts (or facilitate
communication) with the help of public and private keys.

Nostr uses cryptographic signatures to keep communications secure;
public and private key pairs are used to encrypt and send data.
Similar to Bitcoin, the Nostr code functions as a protocol. Yet it’s
important to point out that Nostr is not a type of blockchain
technology. There’s overlap — these innovations use some similar tools
to accomplish different things.

Nostr was made so builders can connect with the people they want to
and broadcast information, but it’s not the same as a
globally-connected, blockchain-based network like Bitcoin — where all
nodes have to agree, or come to a consensus. That can work great for
something that functions as a currency, but consensus doesn’t have as
much of a use in Nostr’s social aspects. They simply use cryptography
in different ways.

Nostr technology is modeled after a lot of social platforms in terms
of what they’re used for: broadcasting information or sentiment to
others (in community forums or one-off messages), direct communication
and self-expression.

Because it is decentralized, Nostr is more censorship resistant
because it’s not controlled by one entity, group or company. Nostr can
be used for sharing all types of content — ideas, direct messages,
blogs, newsletters or even some games.

You can think of the Nostr protocol as a “language” for computers to
communicate with one another.

Instead of a post (“event”) going live via one central server, it’s
sent to a specific indicated server(s), and other servers can pull the
information from there. Nostr uses queries to store data, and that
data is in a JSON format — similar to the social media we know today.
But instead of a central server structure like Instagram or Twitter,
Nostr is open source and allows for users to choose how and where data
is used.

With Nostr, you can use your key to connect to or run a public relay
to broadcast information, or to focus on smaller, more private
communications. There are options, and the main point here is that a
lot of these options are in the builders’ hands.

Using Nostr doesn’t take up lots of storage for data, either — there’s
content, tags and key storage. Nostr is accessible because excessive
storage isn’t needed, depending on your goal.

Although this might all sound kind of complex because there are new
terms and a lot to learn about the protocol, the technology itself is
simple — and simpler technologies tend to be easier to scale. Nostr
could grow fast, and there are lots of use cases.

Because this tech adopts a simpler structure, the “look and feel”
differs from social media that tends to automate experience. Engaging
Twitter or Instagram involves a transaction of personal information
for a smooth, unified (yet prescribed) app interface and user
experience (UX) journey.

My personal experience using Nostr, as a newbie, helped further
confirm just how different this tech is from any social media I’ve
used. There are tradeoffs: I felt more self reliant in using my keys
to initiate set up, and less concern about data management or
corporate greed. On the flipside, the UX as a whole felt unfussy but
graceless: a refreshingly no-frills approach to social exchanges.

I don’t view this as a positive or negative, per se, but I think some
users will have a learning curve (or at the very least, an adjustment
from highly-managed and moderated platforms). There’s no Nostr website
or customer service to guide them along; it’s grassroots in its reach.
This could certainly be a plus for the Bitcoin community, which
thrives on mutual education and reciprocity. The lack of bells and
whistles eliminates trust, and suggests developments on the individual
and community levels.

The Nostr community is fledgling, which provides ample opportunity for
growth and renewed personal social strategy. There’s also lots of
exploring that a creator needs to initiate, since there’s a wide range
of relays and clients available. Fewer guideposts can lead to
confusion for some, but the tradeoffs are freedom of choice and
self-directed learning.

As for privacy, users don’t have to give a set of personal identifiers
in order to set up an account. This is, of course, a major
differentiator for platforms that store, sell, track and centralize
your data for corporate profit or control.

People are hopeful that Nostr will allow for free speech,
resistant-censorship communication and rich community building, which
goes hand in hand with the Bitcoin ethos.

Not only this, but there could be a monetary component built in
parallel to Nostr that’s radically different from how other social
networks behave in popular culture today — especially when it comes to
centralized algorithms and ad incentives.

Since clients can filter material by choice, they may create all sorts
of different algorithms to do this. There is potential for
monetization of one’s hosted relay by charging fees via the Lightning
Network, an especially exciting prospect for many Bitcoiners. Over
time, we may see things like Fedimints incorporated in Nostr
monetization practices as well.

This self-driven monetization structure can have major implications on
bots, spam and bad actors in general, both on the user level and
protocol level. In the way that Bitcoin’s protocol discourages bad
actors by nature of its very code, Nostr developers are actively
working to bake security and honest action into its technology.

For example, some builders are looking into implementing costs
assigned to relays, as a paid model that incentivizes honesty and
reliability via proof-of-work models. In this potential design, for
someone to send messages, they would have to post collateral in order
to do so. This way, if there’s a bad actor, the reward could
potentially be retracted as a consequence.

Combined, this would allow for a type of social network that focuses
more on building instead of censorship or centralized incentive

Bitcoiner values (such as sovereignty, privacy and decentralization)
and Nostr’s potential monetization structure work hand in hand, and
this is why so many Bitcoin hopefuls are actively setting up their own
nodes and planning ways to incorporate Nostr into their careers or
lifestyles. Nostr speaks to the decentralized communication need that
Bitcoin could likely never support on its own, even with Layer 2
scaling — since blockchain technology functions best as a
proof-of-work cryptocurrency. Reciprocally, Bitcoin solves the
monetary pitfalls that most social media inherits.

Media is material that anyone can share, and it should be up to
individuals and communities to regulate materials.

For Bitcoiners, this boils down to a recurring conversation around
decentralization. Individuals may find themselves abandoning certain
familiarities (like regulations or convenience), in order to flourish
on the decentralized end of the spectrum. When it comes to social
media and communication, it’s up to the individual where to draw that
line. Some feel safer relying on a nucleus of control calling the
shots, whereas Bitcoiners crave full autonomy despite the fact that
they now hold more of the responsibility.

Nostr is a new innovation, and there’s a lot to learn. There are
aspects you might want to consider about this tech while doing your
research and making your own decisions. Since Nostr is not surveilled
by any one authority or watchdog, users may need to do more due
diligence as they grow comfortable in accepting that responsibility.
The Nostr protocol provides a stark, simple contrast to the high
levels of censorship and guardrails that we’re used to seeing — which
is what makes it an entirely separate entity from “social media” as we
know it.

More information about the cypherpunks mailing list