Jack Dorsey, now the CEO of Block (formerly known as Square), is @jack on Twitter, which he co-founded. But over the last several months he’s abandoned Twitter in favor of two newer social-media platforms: Bluesky, which he co-founded; and Nostr, in which he has invested, using Bitcoin. According to a New York Times article published on May 3, since Dorsey joined Nostr in December 2022 he has been publishing there an average of 59 times a day, “including messages that take aim at Twitter and [Twitter CEO Elon] Musk.” (Gift link.)
The Bluesky name seems like a straightforward scion of Twitter: a real word suggestive of Twitter’s blue bird. “Blue sky” is also a metaphor for “unconstrained optimism or imagination,” as the Merriam-Webster definition puts it.
The Nostr name is less lofty and less transparent.
Nostr’s modest proposal: “A decentralized social network with a chance of working.”
Nostr’s origins are mysterious. The name does not appear in the U.S. trademark database. According to WhoIs, the Nostr.com domain was originally registered in 2003 (almost certainly for some other entity) and brought back to life on November 29, 2022, by a person or persons whose names are shrouded. The service’s founder is known only by a pseudonym, “fiatjaf.”
According to the prevailing story, the Nostr name is an acronym for “Notes and Other Stuff Transmitted by Relays.” (I haven’t found this explanation on the Nostr website, but it appears in the Times article, on TechCrunch, and elsewhere. Relays are “the backend servers” that “allow Nostr clients to send them messages, and they may [or may not] store those messages and broadcast those messages to all other connected clients.”) That sounds to me more like a backronym than a true acronym, sort of like the jokey story about Yahoo meaning “Yet Another Hierarchically Officious Oracle.”
As for how to pronounce Nostr, that’s also unclear. I watched several videos and heard it pronounced gnaw-ster, know-ster, and even know-stra (as in Cosa Nostra).
In the absence of a more extensive official name story, I’m going to, um, blue-sky this:
- Nostr suggests Latin noster, “ours” or “our.” The first two words of the Christian Lord’s Prayer are “pater noster” (“our father”). Fun fact: A paternoster elevator (or lift), sometimes shortened to paternoster, consists of a chain of open compartments. Before I knew better, I thought the name came from the muttered invocations of terrified passengers, but no: It’s because the conveyance resembles a loop of rosary beads.
- N-O-S-T-R are the first five letters of Nostradamus, the French astrologer and prediction-maker (1503–1566). One clue that this may be significant is the name of the Nostr iOS client: Damus.
- A nostrum is a patent medicine made from secret ingredients; the word comes from Latin nostrum remedium “our remedy.” Is Nostr intended to be the social-media medicine for what ails us? Maybe. Fun fact: There’s a regional airline in Spain called Air Nostrum, probably an allusion to the Latin term for the Mediterranean Sea: Mare Nostrum (“our sea”).
- A search for the Nostr logo turns up some images with ostriches that appear to have been designed by volunteers. (The images are not currently on Nostr.com.)
The designer of this image, “SovrynMatt,” calls the bird a “nostrich,” an interesting choice that a) alludes to Twitter’s bluebird icon, but bigger, scarier, and less capable of flight, and b) suggests “no ostrich,” as in … well, something to do with removing heads from sand, maybe.
Could Nostr be derived from nostril? The nose knows?
Or maybe you have a better suggestion. Comments are open!