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Issue #1310: The potential power of Nostr

Issue #1310: The potential power of Nostr

Jan 30, 2023
Marty's Ƀent

Issue #1310: The potential power of Nostr

I wanted to take some time to comment on Nostr, which stands for Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays. It is a new publishing protocol that leverages web sockets, private-public key pairs, and relay servers to create a censorship-resistant environment for people to spin up digital identities and broadcast information. A user creates a Nostr pubkey using Schnorr signatures, connects to a relay or many relays and begins broadcasting information. Nostr can be considered censorship resistant due to the ability to connect to many relays. An individual relay can decide not to pass your messages along, but the likelihood that all relays would decide not to is low. And at the end of the day, if all external relays decide to censor you can spin up your own relay that your audience can connect and receive your message. The protocol is extremely simple and robust.

It is yet to be seen if Nostr turns into a widely adopted protocol with a vibrant application layer built on top or a flash in the pan that fizzles out after initial enthusiasts lose interest, but it has certainly piqued the interest of a lot of people. Particularly bitcoiners. Which makes sense because it is a protocol created by bitcoiners who weren't happy with the status quo of media and information distribution on the Internet.

Recently, Damus and other Nostr clients have made it extremely easy for individuals to insert their Lightning Address into their profiles so that they can easily receive sats over the protocol. When Edward Snowden spun up and announced his Nostr account the other week he had to tell people to stop sending him sats. "It works!"

On top of this, it seems that Nostr has been a potent orange pill for some.

Lightning addresses being native to some clients is just the tip of the iceberg. The ability to do end-to-end encrypted chats over Nostr has created a new way to privately exchange bitcoin addresses. If a user wanted to they could even create a messaging bot that would provide a bitcoin address to another user upon request.

These are only the things that are happening directly within the Nostr ecosystem. Despite the fact that Nostr has only garnered siginificant attention in the last six months, many bitcoin companies and project are already beginning to integrate Nostr into their products. Most notably Alby, a Lightning wallet that lives in the browser, which has made it so users can sign Nostr messages with their private key directly from the browser.

via Alby

Lyle Pratt, the founder of Vida, is integrating Nostr compatibility into his product. Allowing Nostr users to easily sign into Vida using their Nostr pubkeys and conversely allowing Nostr clients to pull in content being produced on Vida.

All of this works because Nostr is a relatively simple system with built-in identity (represented by Nostr public keys) that enables interoperability across many different products and services. And the beauty of it all is that pairing it with bitcoin gives the protocol an inherent bootstrapping mechanism because individuals are more likely to syndicate content via Nostr because of the ease with which that content can now be monetized. This is what the "Web 3.0" bros think they're building, but instead it's enabled by open-source protocols that make sense for the use cases and not some Frankenstein blockchain with a speculative token attached to it.

The future of a more distributed and robust internet will be built on infrastructure that looks like this. Whether Nostr will be the protocol that wins at the end of the day for this type of content distribution is yet to be seen. There are still many questions to answer.

Will there be enough individuals running enough reliable relays that the protocol can prove to be truly censorship resistant?

Will spam ruin the user experience?

Will enough people find value in the protocol and begin building on it or will it be a toy for enthusiasts?

Will the UX around managing Nostr private-public key pairs be easy? If someone builds up a reputation or business using Nostr and then loses the private key associated with their pubkey how will they recover?

Many of these problems are being actively worked on at the moment. I am cautiously optimistic that Nostr will prove to be more than the flash in the pan that many expect it to be. "A product of bear market boredom." If Nostr does succeed it will change the way social media operates, content is monetized, and reputations are built. This alone makes it worthwhile to keep a close eye on the protocol as it develops.

Final thought...

Texans can't handle the cold weather. Can't believe they preemptively shut down schools tomorrow. Soft!

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