Source code for the World Wide Web sells as NFT for $5.4m

Item is first historical artefact relating to creation of internet to come to sale

Sir Tim Berners-Lee shows off an early webpage created at the European Particle Physics Laboratory, or CERN. Sotheby's
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In a stand-alone auction on Wednesday, an NFT of the source code for the World Wide Web brought in $5.4 million.

Bidding opened at Sotheby's on May 23 at $1,000 and over the course of the sale, the NFT attracted a total of 51 bids.

An NFT, or non-fungible token, is a data unit stored on a blockchain that certifies a digital asset is unique and therefore able to be owned. NFTs can include photos, videos, audio files or other kinds of digital files.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who invented the World Wide Web, offered the item and proceeds from the sale will benefit initiatives that he and his wife, Lady Rosemary Berners-Lee, support.

“The process of bringing this NFT to auction has offered me the opportunity to look back in time to the moment I first sat down to write this code thirty years ago and reflect on how far the web has come since then and where it could go in the decades to come,” Sir Tim said.

“While the source code to the web itself is a digital artefact that has existed since 1990, it is not until the emergence of NFTs that something like this could ever have been harnessed for sale,” Oliver Barker, chairman of Sotheby's Europe, said.

“It has been such an exciting journey for Sotheby’s to play a role in this landmark moment from start to finish and to have opened a window into the astonishing world of Sir Tim Berners-Lee.”

The World Wide Web digital asset is composed of four elements: the original time-stamped files containing the source code written by Sir Tim; an animated visualisation of the code; a letter written by Sir Tim reflecting on the code and the process of creating it; and a digital “poster” of the full code created by Sir Tim from the original files using Python including a graphic of his physical signature — all digitally signed.

Updated: July 01, 2021, 7:25 AM
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