NFT representing Tim Berners-Lee source code of the web to go on sale

Sir Tim Berners-Lee will sell an NFT representing the source code of the world wide web at Sotheby’s, the auction house has announced, more than 32 years after his first proposal for the project was dismissed by a supervisor as “vague, but exciting”.

The sale, proceeds from which will be used to benefit initiatives that Berners-Lee and his wife, Rosemary Leith, support, is the first time the auction house’s historic artefacts division has been able to sell such a “digital-native artefact”.

“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,” Berners-Lee said. “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. NFTs (non-fungible tokens), 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. They are the ideal way to package the origins behind the web.”

Going up for auction in a standalone sale, This Changed Everything will be a single-edition NFT, bundling four artefacts. It will include the original time-stamped files containing the source code written in 1990 and 1991; an animated visualisation of the code being written; a letter written by Berners-Lee; and a digital “poster” of the full code.

“This is so new, so unusual, and the ability to offer a digital-born artefact is a paradigm shift within the rare books and manuscripts world,” said Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby’s global head, science and pop culture. “For years, people have been asking ‘what do we do with digital-born artefacts?’ NFTs are making this possible.

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“It’s a digital, intangible artefact. If we had a physical manuscript, he could just sign it, and hand it off. The NFT is serving to authenticate that this is the manuscript and not a copy. There’s only one original. And that’s what we’re offering – and anything else would be a copy.”

The rise of NFTs as a form of digital collectible has been controversial, however. The underlying technology has a significant carbon footprint, and some have questioned whether there is a meaningful link between the digital “token” being sold, and the underlying object assigned to it.

This Changed Everything will go on sale on 23 June for a week, with bids starting at $1,000 (£710). There is no estimated sale price.


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