The problem

Censorship, or its absence, has been a source of frustration for users and social media providers alike. Remember the controversial cancellations on Twitter – President Donald Trump and crypto’s favorite social media site. In January 2021, when Twitter, then a publicly traded company, was run by Jack Dorsey Trump’s tweets prior to the attack on Washington D.C.’s United States Capitol were permanently banned. However, in November 2022 the ban was lifted by Elon Musk.

It’s not hard to find polarized opinions on each of these issues.

Many people, despite their personal opinions of Trump, saw the inconsistency regarding Trump’s account status as proof that a censorship resistant alternative was needed. Twitter’s December decision to ” delete accounts created exclusively for the purpose promoting other social media platforms and content containing links or usernames of the following platforms: Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, Truth Social, Tribal, Nostr, and Post” compounded that desire.

This decision resulted in individuals being temporarily blocked from Twitter just because they posted links to other social media sites. Twitter reversed the policy but the damage had already been done. Social media users demanded a new-generation Twitter that could not be cancelled, and needed it now.

Projects to Watch: Reclaiming Purpose for Crypto

(Nostr)

The idea:

Nostr, a decentralized and open-source relay system, makes it possible to create decentralized social media.

Nostr has been developed by the pseudonymous fiatjaf since November 2020. The name of the project is Notes & Other Stuff Transmitted By Relays. In December of the following year, released branle as his first attempt to create a Nostr powered Twitter. In his tweet, he stated that branle is just one of the Nostr clients and that the project was still in development. It was the first Nostr client.

A client is software that provides access to the underlying technology. Gmail, for example, is the client which allows you to access the email protocol (there are actually three different protocols but you do not need to know them to use email). Branle, the first client to allow you to access and use Nostr’s protocol, was similar. You could also use Outlook, another email client, to send emails.

Fiatjaf is the creator of Nostr, but he was not the only developer to contribute. Fiatjaf, who believes in equality and collaboration, declined to be interviewed by Projects to Watch. He said that he could not be Nostr’s leader. That was fine because developer Will Casarin, back in 2022, found a document written by fiatjaf, which described Nostr as an alternative to Twitter that is resistant to censorship. He began working on Nostr’s iOS client in his free time, as other open source developers were busy with their own clients and the Nostr Protocol.

He named his client Damus.

Casarin is now working on Damus and Nostr part-time after Jack Dorsey provided him with enough funding to work on the protocol and his client for an entire year. Casarin replied that “the running joke among the Nostr Community is either [me] is fiatjaf as the CEO.”

The project is a protocol, so it has no CEO. Who is the CEO for email?

Casarin, in keeping with the spirit of Bitcoin (there is a significant overlap between Bitcoin and Nostr), seemed to be more interested in talking about Nostr rather than spending more time working on his creation.

What about Mastodon? What about Urbit or Mastodon?

Ask “Why Mastodon?” before asking “Why Nostr?”

Mastodon was an early decentralized platform that grew in popularity after Musk purchased Twitter. The boom did not last. What did Nostr lack from Mastodon and other decentralized social media efforts to gain such traction?

Mastodon is a Federated Model, where the data you provide will be controlled by the owner of your “instance”. Someone with servers will start an instance for you. Users connect to this instance to use Mastodon. This means that the administrator of the instance can ban users arbitrarily. The user will have to start all over again because the instance owns their data.

Casarin’s Mastodon account was suspended for posting about Bitcoin. He and other bitcoiners found the Bitcoin Hackers ( recently shut down ) instance where he could write about Bitcoin. But there was one big problem: the Bitcoin Hackers was banned by Mastodon.

What if there was a bigger problem?

Running your own Mastodon instance can be a heavyweight. Casarin stated, “Even for someone as me.” To keep servers running, you need technical expertise, money and time. Mastodon’s user base exploded after Musk purchased Twitter. People running instances started GoFundMe campaign to keep their communities going.

Nostr is much simpler than other platforms: “It’s just JSON, and WebSockets.”

Urbit is a simpler way to decentralize social media than any other attempt.

Casarin said, “Urbit’s a crazy model of decentralization. It is a very eccentric one.” It’s not for ordinary people. The complexity and bizarre nature of the game is high.

It’s all right.

Nostr wants to make Nostr easy to use, just like email and texting. Casarin claimed that using Nostr and running it was easier than using and running a Bitcoin node. (This reporter can confirm this is true).

This raises the obvious question: what does this have anything to do with cryptocurrency? Nostr does not have a token. It does not use a Blockchain. Its inclusion as a crypto Project to Watch is not related to tokens or blockchains. Nostr is used by users to send bitcoins to one another over the Lightning Network. But its connection to cryptos is much simpler. Bitcoin spawned the crypto landscape under the auspices of decentralization, censorship-resistance and disintermediating the need for third parties.

Nostr is a company that lives by these principles.

Growing Pains

Nostr’s simplicity is unsurpassed. Nostr is incredibly simple. Users simply plug into the network and connect to relays, which then transmit data through the Nostr Network.

Nostr is still a young product. The protocol, for example, uses public-key encryption. Nostr users have a private key, which is only known to them. They also have a public key. Other users can then use this key to check other accounts and see their notes. If someone accidentally shares their private instead of public key, their Nostr Account becomes “ours” .

Nostr is still in its early stages, so it’s normal to expect some hiccups. These should be resolved as the protocol matures.

Nostr users are currently most concerned about two things: spam and scaling.

The scaling issue is important because it will require more relays in the future to accommodate billions of users. Twitter, for example, has over 350 millions monthly active users. It may feel as though you are connected to only one Twitter server, but there are many behind-the-scenes servers and a lot of engineering that goes into making the experience that you have.

Casarin revealed that Nostr was flooded with spam after Chinese users began downloading the app through the Apple App Store. (More on this below). The solution was relatively easy: filter out the “non-paid” relays, which clients can connect to for free. Paid relays charge a fee (usually in bitcoin). The filter was working well, but now it requires users to pay a fee to avoid most spam.

Nostr could be a great idea, if it grows beyond the social media realm. Applications could generate data, broadcast it to the network and allow other clients to use that data. Nostr is in some ways more powerful than internet. The majority of websites are not connected and do not communicate with each other. Imagine if these websites could communicate with each other.

Decentralization is the future

What about becoming, for example, a decentralized GitHub? Sure.

Casarin was careful to clarify that the internet is decentralized more than Nostr, because Nostr uses a similar hub-and spoke construction as Bitcoin Lightning Network where the majority of data flows through several distinct hubs. Nostr may or may not be the best approach.

Lightning ZAPs is a good option for “other stuff”. Lightning Zaps allow bitcoin to be sent via Nostr using the Lightning Network as a note type. Users can pay each other directly over the protocol for a funny post or just because they feel like it.

All of this is still in the works.

After multiple unsuccessful attempts, Casarin’s Damus app was finally accepted by the Apple App Store in January 31. On February 2, it was banned from China. Nostr’s success is evident. Nostr is doing something right, if the Chinese government has banned a client in less than 3 days who connects to an anti-censorship social network.

Damus, yes, you were fast.