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Nostr, Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays: Bitcoin Backstage With William Casarin

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Nostr, Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays is a protocol enabling censorship resistant communications across a number of unrelated relay servers used to host and serve messages to users. Users’ identities are simply cryptographic key pairs, allowing them to own their identity entirely, and all messages are signed with their identity keys, preventing message tampering in any form. Relays serve as intermediaries in the transmission process, ensuring seamless and reliable communication between senders and receivers. 

Understanding the Basics of Nostr, Notes, and Other Stuff Transmission

Nostr is built around the concept of events, the basic message format that clients communicate with by posting or downloading events to relay servers. Every event has a basic structure including the public identity key that created it, a signature from the identity key that created it over the event, the actual message contents, and other events that it might be related to such as messages a user is replying to, quoting, etc.

This guarantees data integrity for all messages, preventing any alteration of a message after creation. Changing a single bit of a message would invalidate the signature. It also guarantees users own their identity completely. No one can take your identity away from you, as it is simply a private key that only you have possession of, unlike Twitter where your (@handle) is simply an identity Twitter loans you that they control entirely. As well, because all Nostr events are signed by a user’s identity key, it is impossible for anyone to fraudulently post messages as another user without compromising that user’s private key.

The Role of Relays in Transmission

Relays are the mechanism by which different Nostr users interact with each other. No two relays ever communicate with each other, they only interact directly with user clients. Any client when creating an event can post it to any relays they want, ideally multiple in order to achieve redundancy. Other users can then query relays for specific events, any events created by a specific user, or other criteria.

Every relay is free to set their own policies governing what events they will accept, under what conditions. Some relays are completely free to post and download events from, some charge one off fees, there are even Nostr proposals for relays to require hashcash style proof-of-work be done before a client can post an event to the server.

Each relay is also free to restrict what users can or cannot post events to the server. Overall Nostr is able to function in a censorship resistant manner despite this because clients can query any relay online for events. If one relay server refuses to accept events from a specific user, they can notify followers of other relay servers that will accept their events, and other users can simply start querying those relays in order to see messages from the censored user.

This ability for clients to query any number of independent relay servers simultaneously for events is what guarantees Nostr’s overall censorship resistance.

Damus: A Nostr Client and Relay Implementation

Damus is the most widely used mobile client for Nostr, available on iOS, as well as one of the largest relay servers currently operating. Damus was developed by William Casarin, a developer previously working on the Lightning network. He began developing Damus as a passion project after learning about the Nostr protocol, and is the co-author of NIP-57 in the Nostr protocol specification. NIP-57 defines “Zaps”, or Lightning payments integrated into Nostr as a form of the like button on most social media protocols.

Damus has pushed Nostr forward implementing new NIPs, or features for the Nostr protocol, since the creation of the client. Despite the issues Damus has had with meeting Apple AppStore policy requirements, there is a bright future ahead for William and Damus in terms of pushing the boundaries of innovation on Nostr.

The Future of Nostr

Currently the dominant use of the Nostr protocol is for social media applications that are effectively clones of Twitter with a decentralized and censorship resistant foundation underneath. In principle, much more can be done with the protocol. Other variations of social media such as Instagram or Facebook are equally possible to build. Even decentralized versions of applications like GitHub or Google Docs are possibilities. The potential types of applications that are possible to build on Nostr are limited only by the imagination of the people building them.

News Recap of the Week (November 6 – November 13, 2023)

  • There is an 8-Day Window between November 9 and November 17 where all 12 of the spot Bitcoin ETFs can be approved. A Bloomberg Analyst said that the SEC could make a decision on 9 of the 12 ETFs before January 10.
  • The SEC is facing trouble with hiring Crypto Assets Specialists because the SEC requires that these specialists divest from their crypto assets to work at the SEC in order to avoid any conflict of interest.
  • CitiGroup was fined $25 million for discriminating against Armenian-Americans and blocking them from getting credit cards or bank accounts blocking people whose names ended in -Yan or -Ian.
  • Custodia Bank has launched its Bitcoin Custody platform.
  • The United States Federal Reserve has sent a cease and desist letter to Bitcoin Magazine. The Federal Reserve accused Bitcoin Magazine of trademark violations for their FedNow merchandise line.
  • For the first time in 18 months, Bitcoin topped $38,000.

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