Updated Internet trailblazer Sir Tim Berners-Lee is auctioning off a link to his very early World Wide Web browser and server source code in the form of a non-fungible token.
Yup, another NFT. These are tokens that are embedded in a blockchain, and can be sold for millions and exchanged between traders. Buyers really aren't getting much. Typically, the data they paid for isn't actually stored in a blockchain, they just get a token, and the tokens include a link to the material they represent that anyone can see and access. It's a receipt stored in an append-only database. You're essentially bagging bragging rights for stuff that's public.
And in the case of Sir Tim's code, it's definitely public: you can find at least his earliest WWW browser code here for free, web server code here for free, and the first website he crafted at CERN recreated here for free.
Like all fads, the value of NFTs has gone up and down. They hit a peak in March when digital artist Beeple sold what is, essentially, a link to a giant JPEG as an NFT for $69m in cryptocurrency ... albeit to an NFT fund manager. The craze appears to have died down, however. No NFT has managed to fetch that much since.
Still, Sir Tim is willing to give it a punt. He’s hawking a link to the code he wrote on an NeXT computer that turned into the backbone of the web as we know it today (see the links above). The source was written between October 3, 1990 and August 24, 1991 in Objective C, and it totals some 9,000 lines of code. It contains his implementations of HTML, HTTP, URIs, and more, which laid the foundations of today's web. And, snark aside, as an internet publication, we do appreciate that contribution to the world.
But that’s not all. The buyer will also have bragging rights to a black-and-white video [what, this one, for free? – ed.] streaming the code line by line – which, we note, contains numerous typos due to encoding angle brackets in the ObjC code as HTML – and a snapshot of the whole codebase as an SVG, and, finally, a README note written by Sir Tim.
Sotheby’s will host the auction, bids are open now, and start from $1,000. The auction will close on June 30.
“Sir Tim has been thinking about the web over the last 30 years, the good and the bad,” Mitzi Mina, director of Sotheby's press office in London told The Register. “This provides a way of celebrating creation but being reflective about the web past, present and future. Sir Tim sees this as similar to selling an autograph copy of a book.”
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Sir Tim appears to be a fan of NFTs and blockchain technology overall. He praised them as a way of “avoiding central control,” according to the Financial Times. The money from the source-code-link sale will go toward “initiatives that Sir Tim and Lady Rosemary Leith Berners-Lee support”, we’re told. So, it's basically a charity auction.
"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," he said in a statement to the press.
"For me, the best bit about the web has been the spirit of collaboration. 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, 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.” ®
Updated to add
On June 30 the NFT was sold for $5,434,500 and will be donated.