Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web, will sell the source code that made the first web browser work. The code–9,000 lines of it–will be sold as an NFT, or nonfungible token, in a Sotheby’s auction later this month.
NFTs are a form of digital currency that establish the sole ownership of a digital asset. They’re typically used to sell digital art, pieces of sports video memorabilia, and other digital collectibles, but can represent just about anything made of zeros and ones. The fact that NFTs establish “provenance,” or the ownership of a thing going back to the original creator, makes the currency well-suited to historical artifacts like Berners-Lee’s source code.
Whoever buys Berners-Lee’s NFT will get “the original time-stamped files containing the source code for the world wide web, digitally signed by Sir Tim,” Sotheby’s states in a release. “These are the list of commands he masterminded . . . the bare bones from which the web was born . . .”
The NFT also contains a digital poster featuring the whole 9,000 lines of code, and a letter from Berners-Lee about the creation of the World Wide Web.
Berners-Lee originally proposed using hypertext to enable researchers to share information over a network in 1980 while working at the nuclear physics laboratory Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN). A decade later at CERN, he and Robert Cailliau worked together to create the first client and server implementation of the concept, which would evolve to become the World Wide Web.
By the mid-1990s, the web was a hit with consumers and did more than any other technology to take the internet mainstream. It give birth to digital goods and digital currency with which to trade them—technologies which eventually gave us the NFT.
Many of us are still getting used to the whole concept of NFTs: The idea of paying real money for a digital asset that can be easily copied is something less than intuitive. If the “original time-stamped files” were sold stored on the NeXT computer Berners-Lee used to create them, their value might seem a little less abstract.
Still, the fact that Berners-Lee chose an NFT as the vehicle for his digital asset lends some credibility to the technology’s capacity to signify provable ownership of a digital artifact.
Sotheby’s says it wants as many people as possible to be able to participate in the auction, so it’s starting the bidding low, at $1,000. Bidding will remain open from June 23 through the 30 at Sothebys.com.