Nostr and Mastodon have both positioned themselves as “twitter alternatives” and both offer some degree of federation. I have done quite a bit of reading and testing with both and am writing this in case you are curious about which one may work best for you.

I ended up deciding to use both, but I have a slight preference for nostr on the tech side of things. But in terms of user base, there are more people I want to follow on mastodon.

Let’s start with what is the same with both systems:

  • They are both federated and decentralized, reducing our dependency on centralized services like twitter
  • Both are completely open-source
  • They are both currently setup to share short messages like tweets, but are built on protocols which can support other kinds of messages and content.
  • In both systems, you can “follow” people to have them show up in your feed, and people can “follow” you. You can also browse tweets from other users on the same server or from across the network in a “public square” type setting. Both also support hashtags. Both support “liking” a post, “re-tweeting”, “replying”, etc.
  • They are both similar to e-mail in that any user can send a message to any other user regardless of which “instance” or “server” they are on (there are some exceptions here for moderation/defederation in Mastodon’s case)
  • They both feature some tools for moderation with more tools coming down the pipe soon
  • You can run your own “instance” or “relay” on both for greater degrees of control and resiliency, though in Nostr’s case there is very little benefit to doing so.

Terminology

  • Mastodon has “instances” or “servers”, nostr has “relays”, these are essentially the same thing.

How to use

  • With Mastodon, you generally sign up on an instance’s website and then access it via their website or via an app. You can choose from many different apps and change whenever you like.
  • With Nostr, you don’t need to sign up at any website, you simply choose an app and it creates your account. You can change apps anytime you like. You can also sign up and access nostr through a website (like snort, which is what I use), but your account is not actually at that website, the website is essentially just your portal to access the nostr network.
  • Note that while Mastodon is basically exclusively focused on “tweet”-like messages, Nostr does support a bunch of other types of content sharing with some apps optimized for that particular function. But the vast majority of nostr use/content still seems to be in the tweet-like category.

User base:

  • Mastodon has a much larger and more diverse user base.
  • One thing people say they don’t like about nostr is that there are a lot more crypto bros on it. You can curate your feed as you like just as with mastodon. In fact, when I signed up at snort (a nostr website), during the default sign-up it blocks anything that’s crypto, politics, or nsfw related.
  • In both systems, instances or relays are often centered around a particular topic. Mastodon seems to embrace this concept more than nostr.

Identity

  • In mastodon, your identity (ie your login name, your list of who follows you, the list of people you follow, and your tweet history) is tied to your account on a given instance. This means that if that instance shuts down or decides to kill your account for some reason, you have to start all over on another instance.
  • In nostr, your identity is tied to your private key (made by the app you use, you don’t actually need to know the key), not a single server or instance. When you “tweet” your message is automatically relayed to several relays. You can move your private key between apps if you want to change the app you use. Nostr is therefore more censorship resistant and resilient in the face of network outages or instances deciding to close.

Moderation and Federation

  • In both Nostr and Mastodon, instances can set their own moderation policies to control what flows through their server.
  • Likewise, Nostr and Mastodon instances can choose not to talk to other Nostr and Mastodon instances, though this kind of “defederation” is more frowned upon in Nostr circles and less relevant as a choice since an instance can’t control who you follow.
  • In both systems, you can block users or servers you find annoying.
  • Unlike Mastodon, in Nostr you can always follow somebody so long as at least one relay is serving their content. Your relay doesn’t control who you can follow. While in Mastodon your relay generally doesn’t control who you can follow, they have this ability and sometimes use it for anti-spam, anti-abuse, or philosophical reasons (ie defederating from threads).

Privacy/Security

  • Mastodon has some confusion among users that DM’s weren’t actually as private as they were used to based on using twitter previously. This is really more just incorrect user expectation, not a flaw or problem with mastodon.
  • Mastodon instances can see your DMs between you and other users.
  • Nostr has the ability to send encrypted DMs, so the relay cannot read your messages and they truly are private. Though I believe the metadata (who is sending messages to who and when) is not private.

Micropayments

  • Nostr has built-in support for micropayments or “tips” via Bitcoin lightning. This means if you like a tweet, you have the option to give a small monetary tip to the author. You can tip what is essentially a hundredth of a cent or $100, it’s up to you. Likewise, other people can tip you if they like your tweets. You don’t have to use this function at all if you don’t want, it’s not turned on by default.
  • Mastodon has no support for micropayments

Other

  • Mastodon has some ability to integrate with other services like lemmy/kbin since they use the same underlying protocol. How and when to do this integration seems to be some matter of debate at the moment.

Conclusion

I like nostr’s design better mostly because it gives me some more autonomy in a few key places:

  • In nostr, I am not dependent on my instance. I imagine mastodon will fix this issue in the future and make it easier to recover from situations where your instance decides to close up shop, but as of right now it’s an unsolved problem. I had this happen early in my mastodon experience and it was pretty annoying, I would have been even more annoyed if I had spent years building up tweets, followers, people I follow, etc. Mastodon offers more portability than traditional social media sites, but nostr goes even further than Mastodon does in this regard.
  • I like that my instance can’t choose who I follow or talk to.
  • The encrypted dm and tipping functionality is interesting but I don’t think I’ll get much use out of it. I tried tipping just to try it out, and it works smoothly, but it just doesn’t appeal to me much. And if I really want secure communications I’d probably use a different system for it.

Mastodon has more people I want to follow, that for me is the main reason to be on mastodon.

  • Quacksalber@sh.itjust.works
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    6 months ago

    One benefit of Mastodon not mentioned is that the activitypub protocol is used by more services than Mastodon. I personally am looking to switch to Kbin or Mbin, whenever those become usable alternatives, as they allow me to interact both with Lemmy and Mastodon.

    • makeasnek@lemmy.mlOP
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      6 months ago

      This is mentioned in “other” it’s easy to miss. Both of these services essentially do the same thing different ways.

      Mastodon, Lemmy, Kbin, etc are all built on top of activity pub which is the underlying protocol. It’s easy to understand because each “use case” of this underlying protocol has a different name. Mastodon isn’t Lemmy and Lemmy isn’t Kbin but they can all talk to each other to some degree.

      In Nostr’s case, the main “use case” is tweet-like functionality but there are other functionalities like streaming video, but they’re all called “nostr” which is a bit confusing. Nostr’s tweeting interface is built on the underlying protocol called nostr which is a bit confusing.

      At the end of the day, both platforms are essentially using the same underlying concept which is “we have one base protocol for passing messages around and then specific use cases like twitter clones or reddit clones are built on top of it”

  • iopq@lemmy.world
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    6 months ago

    I actually like Nostr, except for its user base. They run bots to spam crypto when you post anything

    • makeasnek@lemmy.mlOP
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      6 months ago

      I really expected the crypto bro problem to be much worse than it was, perhaps it was worse before, or maybe it has something to do with which instances I’m connected to or the auto-filter? Crypto stuff often shows in “trending” for me, but has never ended up in my feed as a dm, reply, etc.

      The “trending” functionality in both mastodon and nostr has been pretty lackluster imo, it’s always like “did you know FIVE WHOLE PEOPLE tweeted about #caturday”. I imagine it works well on some instances, but getting a “trending across instances” metric seems like a software engineering problem neither platform has solved well yet.

      • nicetriangle@kbin.social
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        6 months ago

        Yeah agreed on the trending problem on Mastodon. In fact, as a whole it does a pretty poor job of serving interesting content without putting in some work. The only way I’ve been able to get a stream of stuff I actually want to see is by filtering a lot of stuff out and following a lot of specific hashtags.

        I think the problem they’re wrestling with is definitely technical but also partly philosophical. Because when you start doing trending content, you start looking at some amount of algorithmic aggregation and that can get messy when you’re positioning yourself as a network that specifically doesn’t play the algorithmic BS game like the Metas and Twitters of the world.

        • makeasnek@lemmy.mlOP
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          6 months ago

          Yeah absolutely. I’m sure these things will get worked out in time, I’m just glad we’re moving in the direction of federation and decentralization.

      • iopq@lemmy.world
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        6 months ago

        I just checked again, a lot less crypto, only every other post about stacking sats

        But on the plus side, a post talking about open source AI text models which is something interesting

  • ALostInquirer@lemm.ee
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    6 months ago

    Outside of the tech differences, given that it’s for socializing and has fewer people you want to follow, what else keeps you using it? Are there some people/communities (besides aforementioned cryptobros) only on there that you’ve found of interest?

    • makeasnek@lemmy.mlOP
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      6 months ago

      Nope. In terms of user diversity and people I’m interested in, Mastodon is winning hands down.

  • helenslunch@feddit.nl
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    6 months ago

    I understand why you chose to use “Mastodon” here but I think it’s worth pointing out that the more-appropriate word to use here would be “Fediverse” since all of your points apply across the different softwares.

  • deluxeparrot@thelemmy.club
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    6 months ago

    This is very informative and echoes a lot of my opinions.

    I don’t like my identity being tied to the instance I created an account on. I should own my identity, like on nostr.

    My instance/relay having moderation decisions is not as clear cut. It’s beneficial as long as your interests align; without it you end up having to manage crypto spam yourself. But moderation policies are fluid and work both ways on the fediverse.

    It is important on the fediverse which instance you create an account on. Which is a huge barrier to entry for non tech users. Pointing them to the biggest instance by default compromises the decentralisation.

    • makeasnek@lemmy.mlOP
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      6 months ago

      Nostr is it’s own fediverse with a bunch of apps (including the popular twitter clone also confusingly called Nostr) which interact with each other. Mastodon, lemmy, etc all use ActivityPub, just like Nostr apps use Nostr. Non-twitter-clone apps for nostr including livestreaming, video sharing, etc.

  • Sibbo@sopuli.xyz
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    6 months ago

    That’s a bit long to read, but do they federate with each other?

    • makeasnek@lemmy.mlOP
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      6 months ago

      Each federate within themselves but they don’t federate between each other. But there are “bridge” type services you can use, for example, if you want to follow a mastodon user or an RSS feed on nostr or vice versa, it’s just that they’re bolted on after the fact as opposed to being smoothly integrated with the rest of the protocol. Like having one bot which automatically re-tweets stuff from one platform to another.