You’ve probably seen a lot of folks on Twitter talking about Nostr recently (including Twitter founder Jack Dorsey). Jack likes Nostr so much, he donated 14 Bitcoin to Nostr open-source development.
This article serves as a guide for non-technical people on how to start using Nostr. Basic definitions are at the top, followed by a step-by-step guide for how to get started.
TLDR: join the Damus App beta on TestFlight, generate a public key and private key, and start messing around with a censorship-resistant, decentralized protocol.
If you’re already familiar with Nostr and just want a one-stop shop for useful resources, scroll down to the bottom of the page.
What is Nostr?
Nostr stands for “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays.”
Think of Nostr like a social network, built similar to Twitter, where you can create posts or “notes” (like a tweet), like posts, follow and unfollow people, and “boost” posts (like a retweet). You may see “post” and “note” used interchangeably on Nostr. An “event” in Nostr can be any one of these previously mentioned actions.
One thing to make abundantly clear: Nostr is a protocol. It’s a set of rules that servers and clients use to communicate (just like Bitcoin, email or Bittorrent). Nostr is not an app nor a “platform” (like Twitter, Facebook, etc.), but many applications can be built on top of Nostr.
Unlike Twitter, Nostr is decentralized. There are no central servers or corporations who control what you can post and what others can see. Nostr is censorship-resistant and open source.
How does Nostr work?
To use Nostr, you must run a client. A client is simply the way you interact with Nostr (web client in your browser, mobile client on your iPhone, native client, etc.).
To publish something on Nostr, you write a post (note), sign it with your key and send it to multiple relays. You have two keys: your public key and your private key. Think of the public key as your username (like your @handle on Twitter). Think of your private key as your password.
To find another Nostr user, you just need to search in your client of choice using their public key. You’ll see a lot of people posting theirs on Twitter:
A relay is a server hosted by you or by someone else; anyone can run a relay.
To get updates from other people, you ask multiple relays if they know anything about these other people. All a relay does is accept posts from people and forward them to other people. You don’t need to trust the relays because signatures are verified on the client side (where you are interacting with Nostr).
Why is Nostr important?
Nostr enables censorship-resistant publishing.
Twitter is great, but it comes with some serious drawbacks: it has ads, uses bizarre techniques to keep you addicted, doesn’t show an actual historical feed from people you follow, bans people, shadowbans people, and is riddled with bots and spam. If you’re interested in the limitations of other Twitter alternatives like Mastodon, check out this resource on GitHub.
Nostr is a tool for free speech and free publishing. In an age where our speech is increasingly restricted in online forums and what we see is controlled by opaque algorithms, Nostr is a refreshing and necessary change.
How do I start using Nostr?
Just like that you’re good to go! Start playing around with Nostr on @damusapp or read on to dive a little deeper (Nostr on the web, profile pictures, and NIP-05 IDs).
UPDATE: With the recent updates of the Damus beta on Testflight, users can now have the ability to edit their profiles directly from the Damus app (usernames, profile picture, website, about me, NIP-05 verification). Users can also add a Bitcoin Lightning address for tips directly in the Damus profile editor!
How do I use Nostr on the web?
If you want to use Nostr on the web after getting your keys on Damus, download the Alby browser extension and input your private key. This will allow you to interact with Nostr web clients without inputting your private key directly into the web client itself. Alby uses the nos2x Nostr Signer Extension built by @fiatjaf.
If you do not have an iPhone, go to astral.ninja, create a public and private key, then follow the same steps. If you’re an Android user, fear not; there’s already a project in the works called Nosky.
How do I add a profile picture?
Once you have generated your keys from Damus or from a web client and have saved your private key in Alby, go to https://metadata.nostr.com/:
Alby will prompt you to “Allow metadata.nostr.com to read your public key”
This will populate your information:
To add a profile picture, go to your Twitter account, click on your PFP, then right click and select “Open image in new tab.” Copy and past the image link into the Image field. You can use any image URL (i.e. ending in .jpeg, .png) but pulling from Twitter is the easiest way for most people.
You can also add an “About” section here. Once you’re finished, click “Submit” and Alby will prompt you to confirm. Your information will automatically propagate across all Nostr clients.
What is an NIP-05 ID and how do I get one?
Think of an NIP-05 ID like a friendly email address for your public key, allowing you to get a “verified” checkmark and making it easier for people to search for you across Nostr.
If you’re not a technical person, hit up @derekmross and he’ll hook you up with a nostrplebs.com NIP-05 ID in exchange for some sats.
For technical folks, you can find more information here: NIP-05. Keep in mind that you need to put in the hex version of your public key if you’re setting this up yourself in the /.well-known/nostr.json (use https://damus.io/key/ to convert from npub format to hex).
Can I use Bitcoin and Lightning on Nostr?
YES! You can send Lightning invoices directly on Nostr by simply generating an invoice and pasting it into a note. On clients like Damus, the invoice text automatically changes into a nice little pay button. There are currently a lot of folks sending sats on Nostr…
What do I do now?
Start using Nostr! Follow Nostr developers like @fiatjaf and @jb55 (on Twitter and on Nostr). Check out some of the other awesome Nostr projects people are working on. Start helping others figure out how to use Nostr (here’s a great walkthrough @dergigi put together: nostr tips and tricks). Share your public key with your friends and experiment with an open-source, censorship-resistant protocol.
Remember, we are still very early on Nostr. Right now developers are focusing on building out the protocol; functionality comes first. UI and UX will continue to improve, but may feel rudimentary to non-technical users.
Be patient, give constructive feedback, and support open-source developers.
You can find me on Nostr here: npub1cj8znuztfqkvq89pl8hceph0svvvqk0qay6nydgk9uyq7fhpfsgsqwrz4u
For Nostr updates and more tips, follow Nostrich (@Nostr_Ostrich) on Twitter and Nostr:
Apparently Nostrich is the unofficial Nostr mascot now…
Thank you to open source developers for building a future we actually want to live in.
Nostr Resource List: