The problem(s) with Twitter, Facebook, etc
Moderation is hard. It's hard to be consistent at scale. It's labor intensive. It's controversial. Worst of all, it doesn't make a company any additional money; moderation just prevents the loss of revenue and reputation.
Therefore social media companies are incentivized to implement content moderation that plays to their base. Twitter: progressives. Facebook: (older) conservatives. and so on.
Privacy and Security
In order to make their money, social media companies have to sell ads to us. This requires collecting as much detailed data on us as possible and they make it available to their real customers: advertisers.
This is also a juicy pool of data for authoritarian governments. If they're not reading your DMs now, they will be at some point.
There's currently no way to get the good features of these social companies (community, image/video sharing, messaging, microblogging, etc) and take back control of your privacy or how content is presented to you.
The shitty middle ground: Mastodon
Mastodon, and projects like it, attempt to give users more control over content moderation without being completely unmoderated. They do so by splitting up the job of hosting and moderation to a bunch of different groups of people instead of one corporation.
Theoretically that means that there's a market of Mastodon servers users can explore to ensure they operate in moderation regime works best for them.
In practice it's the worst of both extremes. Mastodon server operators have day jobs and moderation is still really hard. These Mastodon server operators also have to pay for the cost of hosting and maintaining the server everyone is using.
This leads to content moderation that is more restrictive and more capricious in a lot of cases. And in other cases a neglectful moderator lets all manner of toxic content through.
Ideally you'd be able to...
- Create whatever content you like (microblogs, long-form text, images, short videos, long videos, etc)
- Own your content
- Move your content between social platforms
- Have private and secure communication (end to end encryption of DMs)
- Decentralized hosting (so no one group of people controls the ecosystem)
- Tune the algorithm that creates your feed (a dial you can tune between "warm and fuzzies only" and "brutally open information firehose")
Sounds a lot more like a "protocol"
The above sounds more like a protocol than a company or an app. It'd be a protocol for:
- Storing all the concepts included in social media. Content (from text to video), messaging (DMs), reactions (emoji, likes, comments), profiles, followers. Everything.
- Propagating content based on the above concepts
All in the context of a decentralized architecture that incentives the hosting providers to do a good job, and preserves user control over their own data.
Nostr is a reimagining of a social network supported by Jack Dorsey (cofounder, and former CEO of Twitter), and it is exactly what's described above.
Nostr is self-described: "The simplest open protocol that is able to create a censorship-resistant global "social" network once and for all."
It's incredibly early, but powerful. Nostr is not yet ready for general adoption, but it has a path to being the foundation for a more perfect social network.
What does a world look like with social media on Nostr?
Everyday users will use a Nostr "client." It'll likely be a mobile app provided by a private company. The app (the Nostr client) will have a nice interface for creating and consuming content.
Clients may offer any number of experiences, clients can provide the equivalent services to WhatsApp, Twitter, and/or TikTok. Under the hood they can all use Nostr.
Content moderation by choosing your algorithms
Content published via Nostr cannot be deleted and users cannot be suspended because the data is owned by the publisher not the network.
Moderation must, therefore, happen on the consumption side. Clients will likely provide a menu of algorithms that the user can choose from to curate their feed.
Some algorithms may be specifically designed for children, and so they heavily filter the content that the user sees.
Some algorithms may be for the news enthusiast, so it filters out very little content besides porn, violence, etc.
Some algorithms may be for people that want to stay up to date on the world and so the algorithm only presents major events from major accounts they follow.
Each user has the choice of how
The content users create isn't stored by the client (the app they're using), the content is stored on what are called "relays." Relays are servers that make themselves available to clients to store and retrieve content.
Here's an oversimplified example of the interaction of relays and clients for clarity:
Whether the content being published is a private DM, a blog, or a video the architecture is essentially the same. As long as users share at least one relay, they'll be able to communicate and follow each other.
Relays provide a tangible, valuable service to clients (and therefore users) with straightforward, predictable costs (servers). Relays will likely charge for this service.
Subscribing to clients and relays
There will likely be clients and relays that offer paid features (sophisticated content algorithms, speedy relays, etc) for a recurring fee.
There may be clients and relays that do not charge for their services, but they may be forced to serve ads to users in order to make enough money to keep their client operating (and any relays users are using through them).
There will likely be open source clients that people choose to help maintain so that every human has access to a free client that's also fairly functional. But relays will always cost something, because servers aren't free.
A marketplace of clients and relays
Nostr, when the ecosystem can deliver on its promises, will be a better social network than anything we currently have.
Even if people still want to be served ads instead of paying for the services of clients and relays directly, there will be money to be had providing clients and relays.
There will be money to be made by offering fast and cheap relays. There will be incentives to develop apps and content algorithms that give people the social media experience they crave.
Switching clients and relays on Nostr takes seconds, so users will freely migrate to the best offering available to them. Nostr can make a highly competitive, and feature rich marketplace for social media.
Once established, the virtuous cycle of innovation will work in favor of users:
- Having more privacy
- Having more control over their feed (and how it affects their mood)
- Extracting less money from the users
Currently, social media companies are incentivized to do the exact opposite.
Much to build
Nostr has a ton of potential, but it's early.
Existing clients are a bit buggy, and they don't have all the features we have come to expect. I haven't yet seen any content filtering algorithms in clients at all, let alone a menu of them depending on user preference.
There aren't a ton of relays yet, and they're overtaxed by the rapid growth in usage of Nostr. So content takes a while to load, and messages take a while to send between users.
Lots of opportunity
If you're looking for something to dedicate time into that has a chance to dramatically improve the world, this is a great option! Whether you're looking to contribute hobby time, or make a mark with your career there's a lot of opportunity here.
If you can develop a truly great Android or iOS client experience, early adopters will flock to it.
If you can introduce a content algorithm that clients can use to help people avoid seeing violent or sexual content, it's a wide open field.
If you can maintain a relay that's ready to scale, people want a reliable option.
If you can create a seamless way for folks to pay for clients and relays, you can unlock the marketplace of Nostr.
Let's fucking do it!
I know I'll be diving in to contributing to the open source projects.