As Ars Technica points out, there’s a very early copy of the source code available on the web today (which Sotheby’s says is similar to the code being sold in the NFT, but not the original), and it seems difficult to compile according to CERN’s WorldWideWeb site. Even if the buyer got the original browser running, there are likely precious few websites still around that would work well with it.
Arguably, the web as we know it was made possible by the fact that Berners-Lee decided not to patent or charge for use of his idea, letting anyone with the technical know-how (and computer resources) design their own website. It’s easy to see, then, why some would find creating an exclusive NFT out of it as a bit of an odd choice for Tim Berners-Lee, on top of the environmental concerns around the tech.
The core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free, just as they always have been. I’m not selling the web – you won’t have to start paying money to follow links,” he told The Guardian.
“I’m not even selling the source code.
I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.”
“If they felt that me selling an NFT of a poster is inappropriate, then what about me selling a book? I do things like that, which involve money, but the free and open web is still free and open.
The final price was $5,434,500 and half of the bidders were new to Sotheby’s.
The World Wide Web, or “the web,” is the system for navigating and accessing information on the internet.
The NFT is considered valuable by some because blockchain authenticates that it is one-of-a-kind and has been officially created, or “minted,” by Berners-Lee himself.
“The symbolism, the history, the fact that they’re coming from the creator is what makes them valuable — and there are lots of people who collect things for exactly those reasons,” said Cassandra Hatton, global head of science and popular culture at Sotheby’s.
“We have placed it in a public forum, we have sold it at basically no reserve (the bidding started at $1,000) and we let the market decide what the value is going to be.
He has a passion for Bitcoin, open-source code, and decentralized applications. Since September 2015, Redman has written more than 5,000 articles for Bitcoin.com News about the disruptive protocols emerging today.
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Included in the purchase are NFTs representing around 9,555 lines of code written in 1990-1991, a 30-minute animated visualization of the code, a digital poster of the code, and a digital letter written by Berners-Lee in June 2021, reflecting on his invention.
The letter begins: “As people seemed to appreciate autographed versions of books, now we have NFT technology, I thought it could be fun to make an autographed copy of the original code of the first web browser.”
The sale is the latest in a series of moves by traditional auction houses to embrace the blockchain-based assets, which exploded in popularity in early 2021.
In March, an NFT of a digital collage by the American artist Beeple fetched $69.3 million at Christie’s, in the first sale by a major auction house of an artwork which does not physically exist.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist who was working at CERN in Switzerland in 1989, coded the first web browser and web server on a NeXTcube.
It was released to the public in 1991. Berners-Lee never tried to make money from his creation, refusing to patent it, CERN put the rights to the technology into the public domain in 1993.
The historically significant code, all 10,000 lines of it, is being sold by Sotheby’s in four lots, which include “the original time-stamped files” of the first web browser’s source code, “an animated visualisation” of that code, a letter from Sir Tim about the process, and a “digital poster” of the code created by him.
These files contain code with approximately 9,555 lines, the contents of which include implementations of the three languages and protocols invented by Berners-Lee; HTML, HTTP, and URIs, as well as the original HTML documents that instructed early web users on how to use the application.
The owner also now has a 30 minutes 25 seconds animated visualisation of the code being written and an SVG representation of the full code, which stretches 841mm wide by 1,189mm high, which was created by Berners-Lee from the original files using Python, with a graphic representation of his physical signature.
In addition, the owner also has a letter penned by Berners-Lee earlier this year.
Invented by Berners-Lee in 1989, the “WorldWideWeb” application was the first hypermedia browser/editor, allowing users to create and navigate links between files across a network of computers.
NFT stands for “non-fungible token,” and it can technically contain anything digital, including drawings, animated GIFs, songs, or items in video games. An NFT can either be one-of-a-kind, like a real-life painting, or one copy of many, like trading cards, but the blockchain keeps track of who has ownership of the file.
NFTs have been making headlines lately, some selling for millions of dollars, with high-profile memes like Nyan Cat and the “deal with it” sunglasses being put up for auction. There’s also a lot of discussion about the massive electricity use and environmental impacts of NFTs. If you (understandably) still have questions, you can read through our NFT FAQ.
The NFT’s buyer may have trouble actually running the very first version of WorldWideWeb.
I’m selling a picture I made with a Python program that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.”
The auction for the NFT — titled “This Changed Everything” — commenced on June 22, with bidding starting at $1,000.
The proceeds will benefit initiatives that Berners-Lee and his wife Rosemary Leith support, Sotheby’s said.
Some NFTs have sold for millions of dollars in the last few months.
In March, South Carolina-based graphic designer Beeple, whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, sold an NFT for a record $69 million at a Christie’s auction. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, sold his first tweet as an NFT for $2.9 million later that month.
Earlier this month, a rare digital avatar known as a CryptoPunk sold at Sotheby’s for over $11.7 million.
Ethereum. Unlike Bitcoin or Ethereum’s interchangeable units, each NFT is unique, and lately they’ve found a market that’s somewhere between digital collectible cards and artwork, often selling for outrageous amounts. (For more on NFTs, read our explainer here).
In particular, the NFT that Berners-Lee will be selling consists of four parts according to Sotheby’s: “original time-stamped files containing the source code written by Sir Tim; an animated visualization of the code; a letter written by Sir Tim reflecting on the code and the process of creating it; as well as a digital ‘poster’ of the full code created by Sir Tim from the original files using Python including a graphic of his physical signature.”
“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.
It was written in the Objective C programming language, using the Interface Builder on a NeXT computer, a highly influential and innovative computer designed by Steve Jobs in between the time he was forced out of Apple in 1985 and when he rejoined in 1997,” explained Sotheby’s.
At the end of the letter written by Sir Berners-Lee, the computer scientist says, “It has been fun to go back and look over the code. It is amazing to see the things that those relatively few lines of code, with a help of an amazing growing gang of collaborators across the planet, stayed enough on track to become what the web is now.
I have never once felt I could relax and sit back — as the web was and is constantly changing.