Ever thought about what it would be like to own the World Wide Web? Now you sort of can — well, a digital representation of its source code anyway.
Next week, British computer scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, dubbed the "Father of the Web" will auction the original source code for the World Wide Web as an NFT.
The work includes the original archive of dated and time-stamped files from 1990 and 1991, containing 9,555 lines of source code and original HTML documents that taught the earliest web users how to use the application. The auction item also includes an animated 30-minute video of the code being written and a digital signature from Berners-Lee himself, as well as a letter written by him over 30 years later in which he reflects on the process of creating the code and the impact it has made.
"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," Berners-Lee said in a press release. "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."
Titled "This Changed Everything," the source code is being auctioned by international art broker Sotheby's in London from June 23 to 30. The bidding starts at just $1,000 and, according to the press release, the money will go to "initiatives" supported by Berners-Lee and his wife, Rosemary Leith. The causes have not yet been named.
Of course, the internet itself will continue to be used by anyone, but winning the NFT will mean the successful bidder will own a work of digital art that signifies a pivotal moment in history.
"Sir Tim's invention created a new world, democratizing the sharing of information, creating new ways of thinking and interacting, and staying connected to one another," Cassandra Hatton, Sotheby's global head of science and pop culture, said in the release. "It is hard to imagine our world without it, and even harder to imagine where it will bring us next."
NFTs, which stands for non-fungible token, are units of data stored on blockchains. These make the units completely unique, allowing the purchase and ownership of representable items, including artwork, photos, videos and other files.
In the release, Berners-Lee called NFTs "the latest playful creations of this realm, and the most appropriate means of ownership that exists" and he said auctioning the source code was the "natural thing to do" as a computer scientist.
The 2017 winner of the Turing Award created the World Wide Web out of a need for easier communication. He submitted a proposal for the project in 1990 when he was working at a nuclear research lab in Geneva and needed a better way to transfer information between computers. While the internet already existed, Berners-Lee's idea added a critical way for computers to share information — websites.
Josie Fischels is an intern on NPR's News Desk.
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