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Nostr, wine, and the future of social media platforms

Note: This is mostly a non-wine related personal post, but may be relevant for those who also use social media to reach a wider audience. Thanks for reading!

A couple of years ago, NFTs were becoming all the rage and as a tech guy for over 25 years I was curious to learn how these massive collections were being created so quickly. After reading a few “How To” articles, I decided to give it a go and created my own goofy wine themed collection called the Wine Buddies for the fun of it. A few of my online friends thought I should make them available for sale and see what would happen.

I posted a thorough article about my process and the eventual steps of putting them up online on OpenSea, an NFT marketplace. Ultimately I was doing this as a learning experience. Though everyone dreams of something going wildly successful, I was happy that I had accomplished my original goal, learning something new.

Just a small side note before we move on: I’ve worked as a software engineer with paying customers since 1996 and have seen so many technologies and computer languages come and go over the years. There have been plenty of them claiming to be game changers and the next popular thing all coders must learn in order to stay relevant and employable. It can get rather draining and tedious to learn new techniques and discard old bad habits every few years. Some of it is relatable to what you’ve learned before, though every so often something is so new and unique it takes much more focus to truly understand. The worst is when these new trending techs never reach their true potential and can make you feel like you’ve wasted too much time on something that will no longer be used. It’s a risk we all have to take though, as our options are either 1) not try to learn these new things and risk eventually becoming obsolete or 2) spend too much time on something that fades away and then you also risk becoming obsolete.

When I was young, single, and full of curiosity, it was certainly much easier to keep up with all of this. Now that I am older, a dad, and with much less time on my hands, I simply can’t keep up with it nor do I want to. The rate of new technologies coming out is now even much faster than before, so it’s damn near impossible to truly keep up with everything anyway. Which means we risk even more by choosing or not choosing. With the launch of AIs like ChatGPT and Bard, I think things have just advanced to a new level, maybe even a different game entirely. New jobs and industries were created overnight for AI content writers, artists, and more.

So, anyway, after I launched my Wine Buddies NFT collection on OpenSea, I created a Twitter account specifically for the collection as it was by far the biggest used platform for NFT collectors and was surprised at the reception I was receiving. Due to this initial buzz, I even had them ranked on Rarity Sniper, a popular website for NFT collectors, to see which of the Wine Buddies were the most unique. All of this fell in line with what everyone else was doing with their collections, so I figured “why not”. Not too long after this my calendar was quickly being filled up as I was being invited to speak on Twitter Spaces about my collection both to the wine and NFT communities.

Nostr and wine
Then suddenly, one day Wine Buddies’ Twitter account was suspended without any explanation and all of those Spaces I was supposed to attend were now unreachable. All I ever posted about was wine and the Wine Buddies NFT collection itself. No politics, hate, etc. As a web developer, I knew they had an API for us to test and work with in order to help automate our activities. As a one man team, this made me curious what they offered and how it could help me. I had worked with it in the past for clients, but it had been a while. I had spent one morning testing out their API and what their documentation showed we could do with it. Only a few hours later my account was suspended. My best guess was that something (that their own documentation explained how to do!) triggered this suspension. I never received a response from Twitter support as to why. Appeals went unanswered. No phone number to call, their own support account would never respond to direct messages. Months went by and my NFT project lost all of its momentum and over time NFTs in general lost their buzz.

I never once received any emails from Twitter directly. Almost a year after this, I tried logging into that account and noticed bolded text saying it was now Permanently Suspended with just a link to their Terms of Service. Something on there TOS was what I had apparently broke and it was up to me to figure out exactly what.

The entire ordeal made me disheartened more than I had expected. This went from something I was doing for fun, to Wow, this is really taking off, to frustration, and ultimately sadness. It was all entirely out of my control and I should have known better. Social media companies are all businesses and ultimately they get to choose who uses them and they don’t have to explain why either. Free speech is not covered once you start using their business. We’re just the product (our data) that they sell to their advertisers. One tiny ant is meaningless to the greater hive mind. They also get to choose what content we see and who your own posts get to be seen by. Try creating a new account on many of those platforms now. It’s extremely hard to get seen by anyone unless you are already famous.

It really made me not want to use their service anymore (and frankly most of social media) and I nearly stopped using my main account afterwards. Still to this day, the Wine Buddies NFT account is permanently suspended. A few years before this incident, my personal Facebook account was also suspended for no reason. I rarely commented on anything and mostly just posted family pictures on my own timeline. I appealed and did eventually get that account back but never once received a reason why it even happened.

After my WineBuddies NFT Twitter incident, I finally started looking into decentralized social media platforms. Decentralization in a nutshell means that no one person or organization has full control. Ultimately all of the individuals involved have a say in things. It’s true that a huge mass of people could band together to move the flow a certain way, but it still couldn’t be fully controlled. Decentralization has been slowly gaining attention across all multimedia platforms (video, social media, etc) but it wasn’t until Elon Musk bought Twitter that decentralized platforms like Mastodon and Nostr were suddenly gaining broader media attention due to the growing concern of censorship. Then late last year, former Twitter CEO and current Block CEO Jack Dorsey catapulted Nostr’s media attention by announcing a major donation to help push development forward faster.

I did setup a Mastodon site for my film and music industry individuals to communicate, but I have personally landed on Nostr as my preferred decentralized censorship-free social media platform. Like Mastodon, Nostr uses relays to spread data around. Nostr which stands for “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays” has a purple ostrich as its mascot and is still heavy on the technical side to use, but so was the early days of the Internet. Users are often dubbed Nostriches, and posts are filled with jokes and memes no different than most other social media platforms, yet there is heavy tech talk focusing on building out the platform every week.

The way it is built, anyone can setup a website that lets users interact within the protocol. There is an ever growing list of dozens of web clients and other projects here.

One of its major differences from Mastodon, is that while Mastodon still requires email addresses and passwords to login, Nostr uses generated private and public keys for every user. So you don’t need to have an email address, you just need to keep your keys safe. There are some drawbacks to this idea though. Like if you lose your private key, you’re out of luck. No one can get it back for you. Or if someone gains access to where you are storing it and starts using it, then your account is compromised and you will need to create a new one. The positive to using generated keys is that it can be as anonymous as you wish and is entirely self controlled considering even your e-mail address or domain name providers can block your usage.

Anyone can setup a relay if they are technically inclined enough, and they can allow anyone to post or read data from their relays. Ultimately your social global feed is an accumulation of posts from all of the relays you are attaching to. You can also follow people just like on other platforms and then just see a feed of their posts the same way. No one can be outright banned or suspended, but each user can choose to block someone they don’t want to see.

The largest advantage to Nostr I see right now is that you can get paid in Sats (short for Satoshis, the smaller unit of a full Bitcoin) by other users. Post something funny or inspiring? Expect to get “zapped” (slang for receiving Sats). Just this week, someone who is pretty well liked on Nostr posted that they were having a bad week financially and needed some money to help their situation. Within a short time, they were sent enough Sats to help out. I’m sure they will return the favor when time allows it.

There’s even a pretty big growing group of wine lovers on Nostr made up of winemakers, industry professionals, and superfans like myself. We love to talk about what we’re drinking, give tips to others, start #winechain chains, and even drool over winery pictures from winemaker Ben Justman at Peony Lane Wine out of Colorado. He plans to release a special Bitcoin theme run of wines in the near future. Hopefully I’ll be able to include them in my next Bitcoin and wine related article. One of the largest and best paid relays currently available is even named after wine,

With Nostr’s ability to create direct messages, private channels, and even relays that theoretically only members of a private businesses could use to share internal messages between users, this could serve any industry looking for a free communication platform to conduct business without breaking the bank on monthly fees. Payment invoices can be directly handled from the Lightning Network, an integral part of the fast growing Bitcoin ecosystem.

Nostr, as a protocol, has a much broader and brighter future as ideas continue to be fleshed out weekly. It’s truly marvelous to watch how far it has come in just a few short months. Considering there wasn’t even a public iOS app for it until a month or so ago. Its developers are all working independently, solving bounties on an open source project, and are coming together to put an end to controlled and centralized platforms.

Some savvy software engineers have already setup bots that play chess with you or offer hourly lottery drawings. Some bots merely zap people randomly every few minutes after they’ve made new posts. I’m even currently building a bot to zap people myself!

Right now, using Nostr can be a bit tricky for those not very technically inclined. Hopefully a solution will be created soon to make it a bit easier for people to switch over. Everyone I know so far that has tried it is amazed and loves the freedom it gives. Most of the users are very welcoming and love debating tough topics with each other. And if you don’t like someone? Block them!

I’ve been around the Internet since its early days and haven’t seen such a major shift like this since those first sets of online chatrooms were being created. Which funny enough, I had a major part in. As a teenager, I created one of the earliest and most successful Internet based chatroom systems with thousands of rooms used around the globe. But it was ultimately centralized and I watched as the person I built it for slowly destroyed it so I had to move on.

I’m glad to see something new get created that won’t have that problem. It’s highly possible that as more people are able to join the Nostr community, the word will spread and people will wonder why they ever dealt with the way these companies had been treating them all along.

I wrote this while having a nice tall glass of Syrah. Rant over. Cheers!

If you plan to join the Nostr world, look me up!

UPDATE: After this article, I completed building 2 trivia bots for Nostr.

Trivia Masters automatically posts general trivia questions every so often. The first to answer correctly wins sats. One other commenter will randomly be selected to win consolation sats as well. You can also force it to start a round by posting to the global feed “@TriviaMasters start trivia” .

Wine Masters was my original plan and is a wine trivia posting bot. It works exactly the same as above, but only posts wine related questions. Enough people were wanting general trivia so I built the other one too. You can force it to start another round of wine trivia by posting “@WineMasters start trivia”.

Send a DM on Nostr if you like using my bots!

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