Recently I began experimenting with Nostr. It’s a protocol for building social networking apps, with many more potential uses. It was created by a nym, @fiatjaf (
npub180cvv07tjdrrgpa0j7j7tmnyl2yr6yr7l8j4s3evf6u64th6gkwsyjh6w6) in November 2020. Nostr is an acronym that stands for “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays.” It flips the current social media architecture on its head.
First-wave social media platforms operate like closed systems. To interact with users on Facebook, you need a Facebook account. Interacting with Twitter users requires a Twitter account. These corporate social media platforms compete with each other in a couple of ways in the battle for attention. The primary way is to improve their own service, attracting new and returning users. This is good for users because their experience improves over time. The secondary, and less ethical way in which they compete is platform lock-in. By having users invest their attention in a closed system, corporations can retain them through the manipulative sunk cost fallacy.
Second-wave platforms like Mastodon attempt to decentralize the social media landscape. They break down the walls between the gardens, and allow users to communicate with others on different platforms that all speak a common protocol called ActivityPub. Mastodon also enables users to pack up their data and move to a new instance, removing the sunk cost fallacy. There is still one key shortfall: admins of Mastodon instances can block or censor users. Some content is justifiably censored, such as threats of violence or sharing child exploitation material. However, benign content can also be censored if it conflicts with the political views of the admins. As an instance scales up, the admins become burdened with the task of mitigating malignant content.
Third-wave platforms are not platforms per se, but clients communicating with a common protocol. This protocol is Nostr. The wall around the garden is gone. The garden is growing into a wild, untameable jungle. Users control their data and have ultimate choice in who they connect to. A simple, robust protocol can be built upon in ways that are not conceived of at the time of its creation. When TCP/IP (the protocols that run the Internet) were first established, the engineers probably didn’t anticipate the complexity that is now built on top of them. In the coming years there will be new applications built on top of Nostr that will increase its utility. Developers of new apps can instantly tap into a growing userbase by integrating Nostr. These compounding network effects will result in explosive growth. There is no extra cost in being a late-adopter of Nostr.
It’s still early days, but if you wish to dive in, awesome-nostr is a good hub for resources related to Nostr. To connect with me on Nostr, open up your client of choice and search for my public key (
npub1m40q4sasaz0le8stc5tqf2cyfq9w2v48zpxxf8elszvvlhu3ylwse96zjn). I’ve also put it in my Links page. Currently I like Amethyst on Android, and NostrGram on the web. If you’re using iOS, Damus is a fine client.