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Coding Error Spotted in Source Code of World Wide Web NFT That Sold For $5.4 Million

Image credits: CERN Geneva.

Image credits: CERN Geneva.

The original source code for the World Wide Web that was written by its inventor Tim Berners-Lee is up for sale at Sotheby’s as an NFT.

It’s not a 404 error, but its right up there with a classic error. A coding error has been spotted in a video displaying the original source code for the world wide web, used to advertise the $5.4m (£3.9m) auction sale. Tim Berners-Lee’s source code for the World Wide Web sold Wednesday for $5.4 million in the form of non-fungible token (NFT). Sotheby’s in New York organized the weeklong sale of the program that paved the way for the internet we know today more than 30 years after its creation. The lot included an animated version of Berners-Lee’s nearly 10,000 lines of code and a letter from the British-born computer scientist himself.

The researcher who spotted the error said it looked like “a simple mistake." Mikko Hypponen, from security company F Secure, said the symbols “<" and ">" had been translated into HyperText Markup Language (HTML) as “" reports BBC. This was a tactic sometimes used deliberately to protect code - known as “escaping" - but in this case it appeared to have been done in error. “There have already been discussions about whether this would make the NFT more valuable - like a postage stamp with a misprint error," he further added.

The original source code for the World Wide Web that was written by its inventor Tim Berners-Lee is up for sale at Sotheby’s as part of a non-fungible token, with bids starting at just $1,000. Berners-Lee, a London-born computer scientist, invented the World Wide Web in 1989, revolutionising the sharing and creation of information in what is seen as one of the most significant inventions since the printing press appeared in Europe in 15th Century Germany.

The digitally signed Ethereum blockchain non-fungible token (NFT), a one-of-a-kind digital asset that records ownership, includes the original source code, an animated visualization, a letter written by Berners-Lee and a digital poster of the full code from the original files.

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In 1989, physicist-turned-computer-scientist Berners-Lee envisioned a system of information sharing that would allow scientists to access data from anywhere in the world.

At the time, he was an employee of the CERN Data Center — originally the European Council for Nuclear Research, now the European Organization for Nuclear Research — in Geneva. He named the new network the World Wide Web (WWW).

In 1990 and 1991, he wrote the program that created the first internet browser, laying the practical foundations for the current web.

In the process, he also invented the URL — internet address-, HTTP — which allows users to find a site — and HTML — the standard coding language for creating websites.

Determined to make the web an open space, Berners-Lee did not patent his program but left it freely available to everyone, which contributed to its spread.

A little more than three decades after its invention, Berners-Lee put the original program files up for sale as a collector’s item. At the end of the auction, he will receive part of the sale profit, but he intends to donate all of his proceeds to charity.

“Why an NFT? Well, it’s a natural thing to do … when you’re a computer scientist and when you write code and have been for many years," Berners-Lee said in a statement. “It feels right to digitally sign my autograph on a completely digital artefact." In an interview with Financial Times, he compares the NFT to an autographed book, which just makes me imagine how much cooler this project would be if he had instead auctioned off the code on a signed box of magneto-optical disks that would’ve been used by the NeXT Computer he used to write it.

The files contain 9,555 lines of code including implementations of the three languages and protocols invented by Berners-Lee: HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol), and URIs (Uniform Resource Identifiers).

Also included are original HTML documents that instructed early web users on how to use the application.

Bids for the NFT, a way of asserting ownership of a digital asset, start at $1,000 in a standalone online auction titled “This Changed Everything" running from June 23-30.

While working at Europe’s physics research centre CERN in 1989, Berners-Lee laid out his vision for what he initially called “Mesh".

His boss at the time wrote “vague but exciting" on the cover of Berners-Lee’s 1989 paper “Information Management: A Proposal".

Berners-Lee in 1990 was building an application he called “WorldWideWeb". It was originally developed in Objective C programming language on a NeXT computer, founded by Apple founder Steve Jobs after his ouster from Apple.

“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," said Cassandra Hatton, global head of science and popular culture at Sotheby’s.

“Over the past several centuries humankind has seen a succession of paradigm shifts that have brought us forward into the modern era … but none has had the seismic impact on our daily lives as the creation of the World Wide Web.”

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first published:July 03, 2021, 14:51 IST