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Nostr: The Next Step to Micropayment Video Content Monetization?

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At this past May’s Streaming Media East in Boston, I presented a session titled, Building Video Paywalls for Crypto, during which I talked about the nascent technology known as Nostr. Nostr, or “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays,” is simply a network protocol, like HTTP or RTMP, to transmit messages over the Internet, with a decentralized distribution. One of the aims of Nostr is to make sure that no single entity owns your content and distribution of it, thereby decentralizing social media content.

I had the privilege to be on site livestreaming the first Nostr “unconference” in Uvita, Costa Rica, in March of this year. You can view all of the content from that event at https://nostrica.com

The impetus to create something like Nostr began with the Bitcoin community, which was seeking more ways to confirm known identities on the public Internet and create a path to send payments between two parties with more ease than ever before. If you’re new to Bitcoin (BTC), you may not have heard of Lightning, which is a Layer 2 payment protocol based on the BTC blockchain (Layer 1). There are many, many Layer 2 blockchains for many “base” coins like BTC and Ethereum. While it is beyond the scope of this column to dive into how those layers work, know that the intention of a second layer is to increase the speed and reliability of transactions.

With a Nostr client (e.g., mobile app, web browser app), you can enter your public and private keys, as well as metadata you want associated with that key pair. Your name (or nickname), description, profile pic, banner pic, and perhaps most importantly, your Lightning URL, can be attached to your identity. When you create a post on Nostr, you are subscribing to various Nostr relays that are responsible for storing your post and distributing it to other Nostr clients. If you post to a relay that is not seen by another Nostr user, then your message won’t be available to that user. Most messages are sent through popular relays, and as such, it's rare that you wouldn’t see a friend’s note. Each message is cryptographically validated, meaning that any client sending an event over Nostr uses a private key to sign the payload. So, in theory and in practice, every message can be confirmed to belong to a specific public key.

Just like security certificates can be obtained from known providers, Nostr users, affectionately referred to as “nostriches” by many in the community, can register their public key identity with a known online service like nostrplebs.com and assign a much shorter user name to the key through that provider. For example, I have registered on nostrplebs.com the user name “videodoctor” with my public key: 


(Of course, I won’t put the private key here, as that would allow anyone to impersonate me on the Nostr network.)

Now, to be clear, there could be more than one “videodoctor” across various Nostr registration services, but only one per provider. On nostrplebs.com, the full managing identifier is videodoctor@nostrplebs.com. Most services offering this kind of registration accept BTC/Lightning payments for their services, and you’ll need to have a Lightning wallet loaded with some satoshis (or “sats”), the smallest unit of BTC, ready to go in order to move forward. Your wallet will also be your source of funds to transfer payments to other users on the Nostr network. Figure 1 shows my profile page as shown by Damus, currently the only iOS Nostr app.

nostr profile

Figure 1. My videodoctor profile

Once you have a wallet, Nostr client, and a “verified” identity created, you can start to have fun with a new world of social media. Again, this is nascent technology—there aren’t millions of users on Nostr yet, but the community is growing daily. I like to use the iOS app Damus to create content from my phone, but there are Android apps and websites that enable you to create and post content as well.

The collection of Nostr-enabled widgets and APIs is also expanding daily, as early adopters work to standardize the embedding of media heavy content, including live streams. Unlike content sites such as Medium or Patreon, Nostr users who want to reward or “zap” the content creator can pay directly and in variable amounts. The universal symbol for “zapping” is the lightning bolt, as shown below to my icon as displayed in the webpage widget, Nostri.chat, shown in Figure 2. Anyone else viewing the post with a connected Lightning wallet can then directly “zap” me in appreciation of the content. In Nostri.chat, the satoshi amount increases from left to right on the roll-over. The “hang loose” emoji, for example, is preset to deliver 2.5k satoshis, which at the time of this writing is equivalent to USD$0.76. The simple “thumbs up” emoji is only 500 sats, or USD$0.15.

nostr post with zapping

Figure 2. Nostr post with zapping feature.

And that brings us back to the title of this column: micropayments for content monetization, which for us in the streaming media world is video content monetization. Never mind DRM–which isn’t impossible in the world of Nostr–users in the Nostr community want ad-free content that they decide is worth paying for or not. And from what I've seen so far, commerce is happening with content delivered over Nostr. Now it’s up to us to deliver content to this new network.

Note: The specifications around the Nostr protocol are continuing to evolve with the concept of NIPs, or Nostr Implementation Possibilities. These are technical proposals on how to expand the core capabilities of Nostr across all clients, which could adopt specific capabilities to address the needs of media content creators.

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