What Is Damus: The Decentralized Nostr-Powered Social Media

9 mins
2 February 2023, 15:58 GMT+0000
Updated by Ryan Glenn
16 March 2023, 18:45 GMT+0000

Twitter has competition. Since Elon Musk took over the “Blue Bird,” newer social media platforms have been keen to take advantage of the networking giant’s perceived vulnerability. And while Spill, T2, and Mastodon have already tried to usurp Twitter, Damus is the newest platform to make a move. But what is Damus? Read on to learn everything you need to know about this new, decentralized, web3 social media platform.

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Unpacking Damus: a truly decentralized social platform

Unpacking Damus: a truly decentralized social platform

Damus touts itself as the “Twitter Killer.” But we have heard that before. Let us delve deeper.

Damus is a standard decentralized social media platform with a minimal UI built atop the popular decentralized social media protocol, Nostr. It is crucial to note that Nostr is the protocol (software) here, and Damus is the actual app. And they together sound a lot like Nostr-Damus (Nostradamus) — the French astrologer. 

Here is what the interface looks like:

My Damus profile
My Damus Profile: Damus App

And while this Nostr-based iPhone/iPad app is called Damus, we can call its Google variant Amethyst. Damus aims to cut censorship from social interactions whilst serving as the go-to end-to-end messaging setup. 

Damus is available on the App store (after much deliberation from Apple). But check out the mandatory “App Privacy” section associated with the app.

Damus app information and privacy
Damus app information: App Store

In simple terms, Damus — the Twitter Killer — is truly decentralized and is quick to state it doesn’t capture or collect user data. Yet, to know Damus fully, we must understand Nostr in its entirety.

What is Nostr?

nostr

Nostr is a social media protocol focused on data management and decentralized identity. The protocol uses several cryptographic keys. To use Nostr or any Nostr-powered decentralized network, you only need a cryptographically generated public and a private key. With Nostr as the backbone, anyone can attempt to build a decentralized network. 

If you want to follow Nostr development closely, here is the Github profile for reference. Nostr Github comprises a repository and open code for anybody to build decentralized networks. 

Who is behind Nostr?

Firstly, there is no organization running Nostr. As mentioned, it is an open-source protocol, with a few developers contributing toward the codebase and aesthetics. However, Fiatjaf laid the stepping stones.

For the unversed, Fiatjaf — the pseudonymous programmer — is closely associated with Bitcoin’s lightning network. On top of that, Nostr has a celebrated lineup of contributors and testers in Senator Lummis, Vitalik Buterin, Jack Dorsey, and Edward Snowden.

Nostr: why the name?

If you’re into web3-specific open protocols, Nostr may have caught your attention. Unabbreviated as Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays, Nostr is a protocol that powers decentralization-focused networks.

Dumb relays — the Nostr Nodes — are the building blocks of this open protocol. These relays move data from one point to another, fulfilling a social network’s role. They are termed dumb because they cannot interpret and process data, thereby keeping user information private. 

And while these are standard decentralized relays, Fiatjaf recently proposed a handful of paid and safer relays. These allow the protocol to encounter spam in a more concentrated manner.

Damus relays
Damus relays: Nostr Registry

But that’s not the only reason for the name. Nostr resembles the Spanish word Nuestro — which means ours. And with decentralization at its core, the concept of “Ours” sounds all the more relevant.

Social ecosystems powered by the Nostr protocol are truly decentralized networks with zero dependencies on centralized servers. As it is a base-level protocol, over time, many decentralization seekers might end up deploying it to develop impactful apps. Start9, a company dealing in home servers, is already using Nostr relays to grow. 

The Jack Dorsey connection

Open protocols like Nostr often get the support of the more established players within the social networking space. Jack Dorsey, the former Twitter CEO, donated almost 14 BTC, worth $245,000 at the time, to funding Nostr in 2022. 

Upon receiving the funds, Fiatjaf took to Twitter, mentioning that half the funds were instantly sent to DFND — Damus Foundation for Nostr development.

Here is the GitHub implementation of the so-called Expensive or paid relays. When Damus — the Nostr-powered decentralized network — went live on the Apple App store — Dorsey tweeted the news.

What is the Nostr-Bitcoin connection?

nostr bitcoin

Nostr has a couple of Bitcoin-specific connections. Firstly, its creator Fiatjaf was originally associated with the Bitcoin Lightning network. And secondly, the Nostr-powered decentralized network seamlessly integrates with the Lightning Network to move tips to content creators. 

If you like any post, article, or content on a Nostr-powered platform, you can quickly use Strike — a payments app and the underpinned lightning network — to send a small sum to the author. The payment can be made in Sats, which the purists deem as the official Nostr currency. This also helps push Bitcoin further into the mainstream.

Is Nostr a part of the Bitcoin narrative?

Nostr is no blockchain-derived offering with a native token. It’s a social media protocol, and the two entities are entirely different. Yet, just like Bitcoin, Nosr aims to be permissionless. It’s also key that a major chunk of Nostr’s contributors and users have also been a part of the Bitcoin ecosystem, including Fiatjaf. 

Damus app and lightning
Damus app with lightning integration: Damus App

Therefore, Nostr and Bitcoin are connected by vision. William Casarin — the brain behind Damus — took to Twitter on Oct. 21, 2022, to tease a Lightning Tip button. And now that the Damus app is on the Apple App store, the lightning button has arrived and is functional.

https://twitter.com/jb55/status/1583219309966684161

It makes sense, then, that the Bitcoin community is enamored with this uncensored social platform. Jack Dorsey is a Bitcoin maxi. And, with Damus paving the way for Bitcoin’s layer-2 payment support of Lightning, the community expects this Nostr-powered app to change the game for social media. 

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower, has publicly stated that Damus might be able to replace the likes of Instagram and Twitter. 

Snowden is already on the Damusapp. 

Now we know about Nostr… What is Damus?

Damus, or the Damusapp, is a social network controlled by its users. Developed by William Casarin, Damusapp initially struggled to get listed on the Apple App store. And after multiple attempts at drafting the EULA (End-User License Agreement) for the app store, Damus finally resorted to ChatGPT. And that completes the AI meets decentralization saga!

As of Feb. 2, 2023, the Twitter profile of Damus already has over 23.7K subscribers. Over time, Damus aims to subvert legacy social networking projects to bring forth the next wave of web3 social networking. 

Damus features in brief

Now that we know a fair bit about Damus. Let’s look at its crucial features:

  1. Censorship resistant 
  2. Offers end-to-end encryption
  3. Damus is one of the clients that can talk to the Nostr protocol and the associated databases (relays). You can simply download the app and start pushing out messages.
  4. It doesn’t need users to log in using email IDs and phone numbers
  5. Has a team of 44 developers, with William Casarin leading the team
  6. The operational schema can be developed further to work as a decentralized identity-verifying resource
  7. Supports tipping using the Bitcoin lightning network
  8. Plans to develop bridges with the likes of Bluesky and Mastodon
  9. Like Nostr, Damus has a ready GitHub presence
  10. It also has an Android version, termed Amethyst
  11. The concept of independent relays can help subvert existing corporate messaging tools like Slack, helping companies set specific relays with specific employees. As every device running Damus would be a touchpoint, server outages would be out of the equation. 

Damus pros

The features are more than adequate to push forth the much-preferred narration of decentralization. But here are some more pros that further the case of this one-of-a-kind decentralized network.

  1. Public key-specific user discovery is quite innovative.
  2. The lightning network usage for tipping is fast. 
  3. Nostr relays in play help Damus fend off DDoS attacks
  4. Much more efficient than the federated social network picks like Mastodon
  5. It’s censorship resistant; hence, views can never be truly blocked. If one relay stops, you have other dumb relays for thought sharing.
  6. It aims to become a decentralized database, which can be one of the many possible Damus use cases.
  7. Lowers over-reliance on blockchain and immutable ledgers as the choice of decentralized database.
  8. Unlike traditional databases, it follows a web socket form of querying, where data can be queried and grabbed in real time

Damus cons

  1. The messaging relays need to be in sync. This means for your friend to relieve a Damus message from you, he or she should be running the same relay. Hence, it’s not peer-to-peer. 
  2. Public keys still need to be distributed for your friends to verify the account.
  3. Adoption is still in its infancy, making the Damus interface look a tad empty compared to Twitter. 

Damus vs. Twitter vs. Mastodon

social platforms compared

With the technical aspects out of the way, we shall move to a data-specific comparison focusing on Damus, Twitter, and Mastodon.

First, Twitter is an app where every user detail is stored on one centralized server. On the other hand, Mastodon comes with multiple servers, allowing admins to have different, partitioned social media platforms to work with. While the concept of partitioning works well, the threats of censorship remain as a server admin might behave as a dictator.

With Mastodon, users on different servers can communicate with each other. Twitter, however, allows this form of interoperability with other centralized bodies like LinkedIn and Instagram, where users can share Tweets directly.

Damus, however, works differently. There are no passwords or private contact details involved. If you log in using a device, Damus generates a public key (for verification and identification) and a private key to access the interface. Plus, you can immediately start pushing out messages as relays, with users on matching relays able to see the same instantly.

Even if the relay chooses not to display the message, the content still remains on other relays — making Damus censorship-resistant. You can subscribe to a user to align to that user’s relay. 

Twitter versus Mastodon versus Damus: Comparison table

Here is a quick table with multiple parameters to help identify the differences clearly:

Parameters | Twitter | Mastodon | Damus
InterfaceComprises likes, retweets, and comments Comprises favorites and boosts.Quite similar to Twitter 
Account and usageSingle account with one serverMultiple servers and instances, with each server having an adminMultiple relays to move information from one point to another
User-Count (as of Feb 2023)353.90 million users4.4+ million users45K+ on the first day
PrivacyLogin requires contact details and email IDLogin requires an email addressLogin doesn’t require any personal details
CensorshipYesModerate Minimal to zero
Open-sourceNoYesYes
Ease of usageEasyModerately difficultVery easy
Payments Planned and to be introduced soonNAAlready uses Bitcoin’s Lightning Network

What is Damus: the future?

Damus, powered by Nostr protocol, could easily be the future of social media. By making private messaging safer and encrypted with a focus on relays, the web3 platform could be the so-called Twitter killer. With Nostr development expected to grow over time, Damus is set to amplify its offerings, making social interactions truly decentralized and interoperable.

Frequently asked questions

What is the Nostr app?

The Nostr app isn’t truly an app but a protocol on which willing participants can build decentralized networks. In simple words, it is open source with a GitHub presence, where users need only public and private keys to access the account.  There are no centralized servers involved.

Who created Damus?

William Casarin is the brain behind the Damus app. However, Damus uses the open protocol Nostr — created by the pseudonymous programmer Fiatjaf — to maintain operations. Casarin considers the Damus model as a decentralized database without the need for blockchain.

Is Damus free?

Currently, Damus is free, and any user can send message bursts as relays. However, users can choose from a list of expensive relays, which are better at handling spam and offer additional attributes to accounts that might consider paying authors using the lightning network.

How to use Damus?

Using Damus is simple. Users simply need to install the application, create an account using any random user name, and eventually generate a public key and a private key. While the private key acts as the password, the public key is a mode for getting the account verified and for friends to identify you on Damus.

What is Nostr relay?

Our Damus explainer talks in detail about the Nostr relays, which are like pathways to send and receive messages. Any user, upon creating an account, can start relays to send and receive messages, connect with other users, and even create content, as and when needed. Relays, despite being different, act as Nostr nodes, helping expand the decentralized ecosystem further.

How Nostr works?

Nostr works when a user uses the public key to be identified. The keys are meant for signing posts. If you want to follow a concerned account, users instruct Nostr clients to query relays from the concerned post, already distinguishable using the public key. 

What is Nostr built on?

Nostr is a platform-agnostic protocol with relays working as databases. It is a scalable protocol that allows users to build a wide range of products. And the Nostr code is written in Rust — the choice of language for Solana.

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