Sir Tim Berners-Lee has successfully auctioned off the original code used for the World Wide Web, as an NFT.
Last month it was revealed that Sotheby’s auction house would hold an event, that would 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).
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.
Sotheby’s auction house had begun the auction from 23 – 30 June, with bidding starting at $1,000.
It touted the the NFT in a standalone online auction titled ‘This Changed Everything’. The final price was $5,434,500 and half of the bidders were new to Sotheby’s, the Guardian newspaper reported.
The reason this achieved such as high price is that the NFT’s basis in the blockchain authenticates that it is one-of-a-kind and has been officially created, or “minted”, by Tim Berners-Lee himself.
“The symbolism, the history, the fact that they’re coming from the creator is what makes them valuable, and there are lots of people who collect things for exactly those reasons,” Cassandra Hatton, the global head of science and popular culture at Sotheby’s was quoted as saying.
“We have placed it in a public forum, we have sold it at basically no reserve [the bidding started at $1,000] and we let the market decide what the value is going to be. There have been multiple bidders who have all agreed that it’s valuable,” she reportedly said.
Included in the purchase are NFTs representing about 9,555 lines of code written in 1990-1991, a 30-minute animated visualisation of the code, a digital poster of the code, and a digital letter written by Berners-Lee in June 2021, reflecting on his invention, the Guardian reported.
The letter begins: “As people seemed to appreciate autographed versions of books, now we have NFT technology, I thought it could be fun to make an autographed copy of the original code of the first web browser.”
It is understood that the sale will benefit initiatives that Sir Tim and Lady Berners-Lee support, and Sir Tim has defended his choice to sell the NFT.
“I’m not even selling the source code,” he told the Guardian in a recent interview. “I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.”