Sir Tim Berners-Lee is auctioning his original source code for the web in the form of a non-fungible token, as digital collectables continue to fetch millions of dollars despite recent cryptocurrency sell-off, writes the Financial Times.
The non-fungible token (NFT) is described by Sotheby’s as “the first historical artefact” linked to the computer scientist’s invention of the World Wide Web in 1989. The NFT – a unique, irreproducible digital asset on the Ethereum blockchain – has four distinct elements: the original time-stamped files containing the source code written by Berners-Lee; an animated visualisation of the code; a letter written by Berners-Lee reflecting on the code and the process of creating it; and a digital “poster” of the full code created by him from the original files using Python.
The auction at Sotheby’s will be the first time that Berners-Lee has been able to raise money directly from one of the greatest inventions of the modern era, with the proceeds benefiting initiatives that he and his wife Rosemary support. “The idea is somebody might like a digitally signed version of the code, a bit like plenty of people have asked for physically autographed copies of the book,” Berners-Lee said.
Auctioneers hope that the one-of-a-kind digital artefact will ignite interest in NFTs beyond their mainstay of artworks, games and sports memorabilia. Investment in NFTs has waned since March’s record-breaking $69.3m sale of Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Berners-Lee, 66, said the auction was an “opportunity to look back . . . 30 years on from the initial code, which was very, very simple, to the state [of the web] now, which has some wonderfully simple aspects to it but also has a lot of issues of various sorts”.
Unlike the founders of Google, Facebook and Amazon, who gained enormous riches through the web, Berners-Lee is no billionaire. The source code behind the world wide web and its first browser, which were conceived and coded by Berners-Lee between 1989 and 1991, was never patented.
Instead, it was released for free into the public domain by Cern, the particle physics laboratory in Switzerland where the British scientist worked at the time. The move enabled widespread uptake of a technology now used by more than 4bn people every day.