World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee sold his original code for $ 5.4 million

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Written by Oscar Holland, CNN

This item has been updated with final sale price and other details after auction closes.

Tim Berners-Lee, creator of the World Wide Web, auctioned off the source code of his invention as NFT. It sold through Sotheby’s for $ 5,434,500 following a week-long online auction that began on June 23.

Although the revolutionary code has long been in the public domain, the British computer scientist has authorized the sale of a single edition of his original time-stamped files.

Comprising over 9,500 lines of code, the files contain the basis of the languages ​​and protocols that underlie the Internet as we know it: Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Universal Document Identified (URI) .

They were sold with an animated visualization of the code and a digital “poster” “signed” by Berners-Lee via a graphic signature. The winning bidder also won a letter, written by the IT specialist, in which he reflects on the code and its creation.

“It was fun going back and looking at the code,” the letter read. “It’s amazing how these few lines of code, with (the) help of an incredible growing gang of collaborators across the planet, have stayed on track enough to become what the web is today.” hui.

“I never felt like I could relax and sit back, because the web was constantly changing and changing,” Berners-Lee concludes. “It’s not yet the best possible: there is still work to be done!

Although the world’s first web page was not put online until 1991, the birth of the World Wide Web is generally considered to be in 1989, the year Berners-Lee submitted to CERN a manuscript titled “Information Management: A Proposal ”, a physics research laboratory in Switzerland.
Originally designed to help scientists collaborate, his invention quickly spread beyond academia. There are now more than 4.6 billion active Internet users in the world.

A poster showing the code is also included in the auction lot. Credit: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Sotheby’s had described the code as the “first born digital artifact” ever to be auctioned. The auction house’s global head of science and popular culture, Cassandra Hatton, said the sale offered a chance to “own” part of a technological development that heralded a “paradigm shift” for humanity.

“I tried to find something comparable,” she said on the phone from New York City before the sale. “Maybe I was thinking about the theory of relativity, heliocentrism, printing, light bulbs or the combustion engine. But I think it’s a much more important thing.

“The light bulbs were an improvement over the spark plugs, the combustion engine like an improvement on the steam engine, but with the World Wide Web it was something entirely new.”

A “fully digital artifact”

Based on blockchain technology, NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have revolutionized digital art and collectibles by offering proof of ownership. Tokens have made it easier to buy and trade digital assets that could otherwise be easily copied, such as tweets or photographs.

The Berners-Lee code has been publicly available since 1993, but Hatton believes that being able to own the “original files” makes this NFT like other historic collectibles of great value.

“I look at it from the perspective of someone who has been an expert on books and manuscripts for almost two decades,” she added. “The existence of the paperback does not devalue the first edition, and the existence of the first edition does not devalue the existence of the manuscripts.

“It’s the same with paintings: How many posters of Van Gogh’s Starry Night are there? They don’t devalue painting at all.”

Related Video: How Has The Internet Changed Art?

Berners-Lee, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2004, said in a press release ahead of the sale that NFTs represent “the most suitable means of ownership that exists” for its pioneering code.

“Why an NFT? Well, it’s a natural thing to do like when you’re a computer scientist and you’ve been writing code for many years,” he reportedly said. “It feels good to digitally sign my autograph on a fully digital artifact. “

As with all of Sotheby’s NFT sales to date – including 28 digital works of art sold for $ 17.1 million two weeks ago – the auction house declined to offer an estimated price for the Berners-Lee code before its sale. The opening bid was only $ 1,000.

Given the limited history of NFTs in the market, Hatton said it would likely take “some time” before auctioneers can provide accurate valuations for NFTs. But she predicted that the buyer would probably be someone “who has experienced the paradigm shift” brought about by the arrival of the web.

“To really appreciate this invention,” she added, “you have to understand what it was like before.”


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