Sir Tim Berners-Lee is to auction off the original code used for the World Wide Web, as an NFT, later this month.

The news came in an announcement from Sotheby’s auction house, which said the auction will be the first “digital-born artefact to come to auction.”

Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs as they are more commonly known, are a form of unique digital asset that has exploded in popularity in recent months. In March Twitter chief executive Jack Dorsey sold ownership of his first tweet as a NFT for just over $2.9 million (£2m).

What are NFTs?

An NFT is a piece of data that resides on a blockchain digital ledger, which provides publicly accessible proof of ownership.

The assets are not “fungible”, or interchangeable, making them rare by design.

An NFT does not restrict access to the original digital file, but acts as an addition to the file that makes it unique, and therefore more valuable, a process comparable to a work of art being signed by the artist.

The technology has been used for sales of digital art as well as collectible digital items and virtual assets in games.

Christie’s for example sold a work by digital artist Beeple titled Everydays: The First 5000 Days for a record $69.3m in March this year.

Source code

But now Sotheby’s auction house is to sell the original code used for the World Wide Web, as an NFT.

“In 1989, British Computer Scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in a moment that changed the world forever,” said the auction house. “This month, Sotheby’s will be auctioning the source code for the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s original time stamped files, signed by him, as an NFT in what will be Sotheby’s first digital-born artefact to come to auction.”

It said the NFT will be offered in a standalone online auction titled ‘This Changed Everything’.

The sale will open from 23 – 30 June, with bidding starting at $1,000.

“The sale will benefit initiatives that Sir Tim and Lady Berners-Lee support . The NFT – completely unique on the Ethereum blockchain – is composed of four elements; the original time-stamped files containing the source code written by Sir Tim; an animated visualization of the code; a letter written by Sir Tim reflecting on the code and the process of creating it; as well as a digital “poster” of the full code created by Sir Tim from the original files using Python including a graphic of his physical signature; all digitally signed,” said Sotheby’s.

Open web

“Three decades ago, I created something which, with the subsequent help of a huge number of collaborators across the world, has been a powerful tool for humanity,” said Sir Tim. “For me, the best bit about the web has been the spirit of collaboration.”

“While I do not make predictions about the future, I sincerely hope its use, knowledge and potential will remain open and available to us all to continue to innovate, create and initiate the next technological transformation, that we cannot yet imagine,” said Sir Tim.

“NFTs, be they artworks or a digital artefact like this, are the latest playful creations in this realm, and the most appropriate means of ownership that exists,” he added. “They are the ideal way to package the origins behind the web.”

“This unique and singular auction will celebrate Sir Tim’s groundbreaking achievement, in which collectors will finally have the opportunity, thanks to the NFT format, to own the ultimate digitally-born artefact,” added Cassandra Hatton, VP, global head of science & popular culture at Sotheby’s.

In March this year Sir Tim in an open letter on the 32nd birthday of the World Wide Web, warned that too many young people do not have internet access and the digital divide has widened during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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