Intro: What is Nostr?
Nostr.how is a great resource for an intro to Nostr if you need it.
I've also written a bit about why Nostr matters. In summary it seems centralized social media has silenced dissent, rotted journalism, and driven division all in the interest of satisfying the social media company's investors and advertisers.
Nostr could be an alternative path that amplifies dissent, empowers journalism, and starts to heal the divides caused by rage farming.
What obstacles are there to mass adoption?
Mostly it boils down to the cold start problem that all social media starts out with. "I don't want to go to a social media unless everyone else is there"
The wisdom of most social media entrepreneurs is that you must 1) provide unique and compelling value to attract people 2) add virality to amplify the effect of anyone joining 3) prepare for scale to handle the influx.
How is Nostr doing on those fronts?
What is Nostr 10X better at?
Any entrepreneur will tell you that, in practice, making a product that's better than the alternative is not nearly enough to make people switch to the new (better) product. Often the new product has to be 10 times better before people will make the switch.
Naturally Nostr has started out replicating existing social media on top of the Nostr protocol. Which makes Nostr apps as good as the alternative and only better because it's decentralized, censorship resistant, and all the things that make people dream of a Nostr future.
But that's only 10x better for folks that care deeply about freedom tech. For regular folks that's not enough to make the switch.
The Nostr ecosystem needs compelling offerings that people can't get anywhere else.
It remains to be seen whether the relay / client model of Nostr can scale to the usage levels of Twitter or Facebook without significant upgardes.
I will say that we have on the order of a few hundred relays operating. And I doubt that someone could handle the traffic of Twitter or Facebook with only a few hundred servers of any kind. We'll see!
Handling spam / illegal content at scale
This is 1) a user experience issue 2) a handling scale issue 3) a legal issue.
1) User experience: Users are going to hate having their feeds and threads overrun by spam accounts or post with porn or violent content. There's already some crypto-scam bots that comment on every post on Nostr, but it's not nearly as bad as it could be.
2) Handling scale: If a bad actor wanted to take down Nostr right now, all they'd need to do is spam enough events from enough npubs that relay operators would be forced to stop operating (because they can't afford the hardware to keep up).
They may choose to add a paywall so that users have to pay to use the relay. If they do, those spammers could just pay for a few accounts and continue to spam. If that happens the relay operators must get into the business of moderating, which is beyond what most of them have time for.
3) Legal issue: Relay operators are likely legally on the hook for illegal content that is facilitated by their relays. (a legal primer on operating in the fediverse) People may not agree that the content should be illegal, but that won't stop law enforcement from identifying relays propogating copyright violations or child porn and going after the operators.
If Nostr stays just an echo chamber of a small passionate group of Bitcoiners, then it won't feel accessible to a wider audience (check out why people aren't joining Nostr).
Especially if we don't build ways to handle illegal and/or unsavory content, we'll be perceived as the next iteration of 4Chan and that's not a place for regular folks to find value (like they currently do on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, etc).
The ways to modify the current perception are through some combination of handling people's concerns and building something truly different and compelling.
Paths to increasing adoption
Unique offerings on Nostr
Nostr has enabled developers to create apps I had never imagined before. This is the best way for Nostr to increase adoption.
Especially if the unique architecture of Nostr makes these new apps possible; then legacy social media won't be able to replicate without converting to Nostr!
Just a few examples of apps I found that are unique to Nostr:
- Swarmstr: a way to crowdsource the answer to a question. Especially because a natural extension of this (probably coming soon) is paying people for their answers (or posting bounties).
- Stemstr: an app to share and remix music communally.
- Data Vending Machines: this is a way to publish a request for data (video transcriptions, generating an image based on a prompt, answer a question, etc) and put a bounty on it. Then AIs can compete for the bounty by giving the best answer or do it for a cheaper price.
- Highlighter: Social highlighting of written content. You can see what your community is reading and finding insightful. If someone can transcribe video or audio you can highlight those as well and share it with your followers.
It likely won't be one killer use case that is so compelling it attracts users from legacy social media, it'll likely be the combination of many apps that are unique to Nostr plus the ones that allow users to do the same things they're used to (micro-blogging, DM-ing, group chat, blogging, streaming, etc).
The decentralized, non-dystopian super-app
Super-apps can be very compelling for users. There's a large amount of convenience in a tightly managed ecosystem that can do everything from group chats to ordering a ride from the airport.
These super-apps are more common outside the of the US, but super-apps are also usually accompanied by a fairly authoritarian state using the super-app's centralization to insert their monitoring and censoring of citizens. It can be very dystopian.
Nostr has the potential to be the decentralized, non-dystopian super-app. It's well laid out in Pablo's post.
Spring (Android only) seems to be the first attempt at creating a "nostr browser" to be able to browse the micro-app ecosystem that Pablo highlighted as being possible via Nostr.
Instead of one big super-app company like WeChat or X, the Nostr protocol makes it so that the protocol is the glue (replacing the company) and every dev can create their micro-app that runs on the "super-app" and competes to get users' attention.
Once it comes to fruition, this is a truly great alternative to the existing app ecosystems: Apple's 30% cut, WeChat and X's dystopian centralization, Android's free for all spying by Google.
Help people make money from their content
The most compelling thing that you can do is help people make money. People will use the new product over the existing product if they can make more money using the new one.
X (formerly Twitter) realized this recently and is explicitly sharing revenue with its biggest content creators. Because they know that's what will attract the best content creators, which in turn makes X the best place for content. Round and round the flywheel goes.
If Nostr can crack the same code that would pull many more users to Nostr.
The use of the lightning network means that there's no amount of money too small to be shared, and that's unique to Nostr. X and other content platforms required quite a following before they'll share revenue with you.
I think there's also the case to be made for content that struggles to monetize in a legitimate way. OnlyFans has had trouble processing payments because they're trying to deal in fiat currencies with payment processors that find their business distasteful.
Theoretically a Bitcoin/Lightning powered OnlyFans alternative could have significant advantages, and increase the adoption of Nostr (and Bitcoin in the process).
Most folks focus on clients because that's what users interact with, but both clients and relays must continue to grow in capabilities for Nostr to continue to scale and enable mass adoption.
Right now there's only a few hundred relays in operation. Part of that is that there's not enough users to need more yet, but there are other reasons:
- Relays aren't easy to host (yet)- there are some providers like relaying.io but they're not widely adopted yet.
- Relays aren't built to scale (yet) - there are projects to create more robust relays that can take advantage of cloud environments to scale up and down with usage like saltivka
- Relays don't have great tools to monetize (yet) - most are limited to a one-time join fee as of now.
- Relays don't have great tools for moderating the content stored on them (yet) - this will become more necessary as law enforcement starts asking about how the network is keeping illegal content from propogating.
Relays are going to be the next bottleneck for mass adoption if users try to start using Nostr all at once.
There will come a time when people use Nostr for illegal or unsavory content. As mentioned above it'll be a legal issue at the very least, which means that Relay operators need tools to moderate the content that is stored on the relay or they'll face severe consequences.
There are ways to moderate content that sacrifice online freedom (like we're seeing with legacy media) and they should be avoided. But there are ways to moderate in a freedom maximizing way and we'll need to work towards that as Nostr scales.
What do you think?
Do you see any other paths to mass adoption? Do you think these ideas are flawed?
Let me know! @gregorygmwhite on Twitter
@email@example.com on Nostr