Tim Berners-Lee has defended his decision to auction an NFT (non-fungible token) representing the source code to the web, comparing the sale to an autographed book or a speaking tour.
The creator of the world wide web announced his decision to create and sell the digital asset through Sotheby’s auction house last week. In the auction, which begins on Wednesday and will run for one week, collectors will have the chance to bid on a bundle of items, including the 10,000 lines of the source code to the original web browser, a digital poster created by Berners-Lee representing the code, a letter from him, and an animated video showing the code being entered.
“This is totally aligned with the values of the web,” Berners-Lee told the Guardian. “The questions I’ve got, they said: ‘Oh, that doesn’t sound like the free and open web.’ Well, wait a minute, the web is just as free and just as open as it always was. The core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free, just as they always have been. I’m not selling the web – you won’t have to start paying money to follow links.
“I’m not even selling the source code. I’m selling a picture that I made, with a Python programme that I wrote myself, of what the source code would look like if it was stuck on the wall and signed by me.
“If they felt that me selling an NFT of a poster is inappropriate, then what about me selling a book? I do things like that, which involve money, but the free and open web is still free and open. And we do still, every now and again, have to fight to keep it free and open, fight for net neutrality and so on.”
Sotheby’s has not produced a sales estimate for the NFT, arguing that the token is a unique object unlike anything sold before. Bidding will open at $1,000 (£716), and the proceeds of the sale will benefit initiatives that Berners-Lee and his wife, Rosemary Leith, support, the auction house said, although the web creator would not be drawn on the specifics of those initiatives.
“I’ve always been interested in the digital world of whether we can use NFTs to get funding back to creative people like musicians and artists,” he said. “From the point of view of selling an artwork, artists need … it’s useful in the digital world to have the equivalent of making an item.”
Although this sale is the first time Berners-Lee has openly embraced the cryptocurrency community, the underlying technology has much that appeals about it, he said. Berners-Lee has settled on similar solutions in his own project, Solid, which aims to decentralise the web. “The blockchain world is pretty separate from the web, except where they connect in different places. But one of the problems with the web’s design is that it uses it uses domain names, which are at core a centralised system.
“Solid and the blockchain both attract people who want sovereign identity, sovereign power as a person. When you get a Solid pod, you can share it with anybody else in the world without asking anybody else, without going through any central authority. And on a blockchain, if you get your name on a blockchain, you can use that as a sovereign identity.” Speaking to the Guardian in 2019, Berners-Lee called the web’s reliance on the domain name system one of the mistakes he would have fixed if he could go back in time.