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Tim Berners-Lee World Wide Web source code to be auctioned as NFT

The British computer scientist wrote the code that ‘changed everything’ in 1989.

Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 invention of the World Wide Web went on to revolutionise how the world creates and shares information [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]
Tim Berners-Lee’s 1989 invention of the World Wide Web went on to revolutionise how the world creates and shares information [File: Simon Dawson/Reuters]

The original source code for the World Wide Web written by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee will go up for sale as a non-fungible token (NFT) at an online Sotheby’s auction.

Bids for the digitally signed Ethereum blockchain NFT will start at just $1,000 during the auction titled This Changed Everything and set to run from June 23 to June 30.

“I don’t think anyone could argue with the fact that the World Wide Web has had the greatest impact on our daily lives, so much so that it is almost impossible for us to think of what life would be like without it,” Sotheby’s Vice President and Global Head of Science & Popular Culture Cassandra Hatton told Al Jazeera.

“For collectors, it is the ultimate NFT because it is the ultimate digital artefact and is being minted by Sir Tim himself,” she added.

NFTs are digital files underpinned by blockchain technology – the same technology on which popular cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum rest. But unlike cryptocurrencies, an NFT is totally unique and the blockchain ledger it sits on verifies who the rightful owner is of that one-of-a-kind item.

The NFT of Berners-Lee’s World Wide Web code includes four elements: the original time-stamped files containing the source code he wrote; a moving visualisation of nearly 10,000 lines of code; a letter written by Berners-Lee describing the code and the process of creating it; and a digital “poster” of the full code he created from the original files using the programming language Python, according to a Sotheby’s press release.

Berners-Lee was working at Europe’s physics research centre CERN when he presented his idea, titled Mesh at the time and later to be known as the World Wide Web. His boss’s feedback? “Vague but exciting”.

Berners-Lee’s 1989 invention of the World Wide Web went on to revolutionise how the world creates and shares information.

Three decades after the vision was first presented on one server and one website, there are over 1.7 billion websites connecting 4.6 billion people, according to Sotheby’s.

“For me, the best bit about the web has been the spirit of collaboration,” Berners-Lee said in a statement included in the Sotheby’s press release.

“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,” he added.

The files up for auction include 9,555 lines of code that have implementations of the three languages and protocols invented by Berners-Lee: HTML (hypertext markup language), HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol), and URIs (uniform resource identifiers), according to Sotheby’s. Also included are original HTML documents that detail how to use the application.

NFTs have recently soared in popularity. In March, a digital-only artwork by American artist Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, sold for nearly $70m at Christie’s auction house.

“At Sotheby’s we see NFT as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to create a bridge from the digital world to the institutional auction world,” Hatton told Al Jazeera.

“To put it all into context, the source code to the web is a digital artefact that has existed since 1990, but until NFTs it would not have been something that we could ever have sold,” she added.

Last week a digital artwork called CryptoPunk sold as an NFT for $11.8m at Sotheby’s. And in April, digital artist Pak fetched a total of $16.8m, also at a Sotheby’s NFT auction.

The sale of the World Wide Web code will benefit initiatives that Berners-Lee and his wife support, the auction house said.

Berners-Lee says that NFTs are the “ideal way” to package the origins of the web.

“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 said.

Source: Al Jazeera

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