On Wednesday, Sotheby’s auctioned an NFT version of the original source code used to build the World Wide Web for $5.4 million with buyer’s premium. Proceeds from the sale are benefitting unspecified causes supported by British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee, who wrote the code, and his wife Rosemary Leith.
With bidding starting at $1,000, a total of 51 collectors competed for the NFT during a sale titled “This Changed Everything.” The winning bid was place around 10 minutes before the end of the auction. The winning bidder’s identity is unknown.
This was unlike Christie’s record-setting NFT sale of Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days, which saw a rush of bidding as the online sale closed, driving the final sale price up to an unprecedented $69 million in March.
“While the source code to the web itself is a digital artifact that has existed since 1990, it is not until the emergence of NFTs that something like this could ever have been harnessed for sale,” said Sotheby’s Europe chairman Oliver Barker.
A set of devoted NFT collectors has emerged since the Beeple sale in March. That month, Singapore-based crypto investor Vignesh Sundaresan was revealed as the winner of the Beeple NFT. Chinese tech billionaire Justin Sun came forward as the under-bidder. In May, the majority owner of the sports-betting enterprise DraftKings, Shalom McKenzie, spent $11.7 million to buy a digital “Cryptopunks” character at Sotheby’s.
Crypto experts following the Berners-Lee NFT sale praised the work as an important piece of digital history. On Tuesday, when bidding was still at $2.8 million, Hong Kong–based tech investor Yat Siu told ARTnews, “This is a highly symbolic moment that represents almost exactly what the development of the original Web was: a bridge for content from the old (print) to the new (Web 1.0) that empowers the people who generate content.”
The time-stamped files sold during the auction contain 9,550 lines of original programming code that Berners-Lee wrote. That code has since served as the basis for some of the foundational structures of the internet: Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), and Universal Document Identified (URI).
A Python-backed digital “poster,” which serves as a visualization of the source code and comprises the inventor’s digital signature, was sold to the winning bidder, as well as a letter penned by Berners-Lee detailing his 1989 creation.
“We couldn’t have sold this 10 years ago, but now NFTs have enabled us to do it,” Cassandra Hatton, vice president and global head of science and popular culture at Sotheby’s, told the New York Times.