Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the British computer scientist knighted for inventing the internet navigation system, will sell the source code for the worldwide web as a non-fungible token later this month.
The token will be sold at a stand-alone auction by Sotheby’s and will consist of four elements – the original time-stamped files containing the source code, an animated visualisation, a letter written by Mr Berners-Lee reflecting on the code’s creation and a digital "poster" of the code.
The poster, created by Mr Berners-Lee from the original files, includes a graphic representation of his 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,” said Mr Berners-Lee.
“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.”
Non-fungible tokens are unique digital files that usually exist on the Ethereum blockchain.
The tokens can contain any digital file – from a digital artwork to videos, music or even a tweet or Facebook post.
Twitter founder Jack Dorsey sold an NFT of his first tweet for $2.5 million and donated the money to charity.
Digital artist Beeple sold his digital artwork, Everydays: The First 5000 days at a Christie's auction in March for $69.3m.
Mr Berners-Lee’s worldwide web application was the first hypermedia browser, allowing users to create and navigate links between a network of computers.
The 9,555 lines of code contained in the NFT include protocols that remain fundamental to its use, such as Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs), as well as original HTML documents showing early users how to navigate the web.
There are now more than 1.2 billion websites in existence according to Netcraft's Web Server Survey and children are taught HTML in school to build their own webpages.
Bidding for the token, titled This Changes Everything, will start from $1,000 on June 23 on Sotheby's website and finish a week later, with the proceeds going to initiatives supported by Sir Tim and Lady Berners-Lee.
Sotheby's global head of science and popular culture, Cassandra Hatton, likened Mr Berners-Lee's creation of the World Wide Web to other major discoveries such as Galileo's proof of heliocentricity, Gutenberg's invention of the printing press or Einstein's theory of relativity. It "created a new world, democratising the sharing of information", she said.
"It is hard to imagine our world without it, and even harder to imagine where it will bring us next."
The technology is "the brainchild of one of the most important thinkers that the UK has ever produced", Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby's Europe, said.
NFTs are "the latest playful creations" on the worldwide web and the most appropriate means of ownership for digital assets, Mr Berners-Lee said. "It feels right to digitally sign my autograph on a completely digital artefact."