back to article Sir Tim Berners-Lee's World Wide Web NFT fetches $5.4m at auction while rest of us gaze upon source code for $0

The auction of Sir Tim Berners-Lee's source code for the World Wide Web as a cryptographically backed Non-Fungible Token (NFT) has concluded, with the web daddy pocketing $5,434,500 for something already public. Sir Tim is widely recognised as the inventor of the modern web, having proposed the melding of Hypertext with the …

  1. alain williams Silver badge

    How much do you think that I would get ...

    if I wrapped this reply up as a NFT ? Would El-Reg sue me for a cut ?

    I think that this is all a bit silly.

    1. tfewster
      Thumb Up

      Re: How much do you think that I would get ...

      I'm delighted that Sir Tim has taken advantage of a current fad to do something truly worthwhile, raising money for charity. Though I wouldn't have begrudged him keeping the money for himself, in recognition of his earlier gift to humanity.

      Creating a commemorative package was a nice touch.

      1. macjules

        Re: How much do you think that I would get ...

        Charity is fine, so long as Sir Tim subscribes to mine (you've got to auction an NFT or two).

      2. NoneSuch Silver badge

        Re: How much do you think that I would get ...

        I'm creating a fungus token.

        It's the cap of a mushroom and the opening bid starts at 12 million quid.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: How much do you think that I would get ...

      I like to think that NFT stands for Nothing Fricking Tangible

    3. jake Silver badge

      Re: How much do you think that I would get ...

      "I think that this is all a bit silly."

      Congratulations! You've just won the Understatement Of The Month Award!

  2. Ross 12


    If you shell out stupid money for an NFT like this, then surely you'll also make a backup or two of your 'valuable' possession? In which case you've just made another perfect digital copy. Every time it's transferred over a network, it's copied. The sooner this insanity ends the better.

  3. JonHendry


    And sad.

  4. hammarbtyp

    The emperors new virtual clothes

    This has become a big thing for photographers after a few made the kind of money in a single auction those selling in the traditional means could only dream off. since then it has turned into a almost cultish way with the high priests (aka the auction site owners) preaching to the converted and denigrating any heretics who have the temerity to suggest that the emperor clothes' are anything other than finest silk.

    To me it feels like a hype bubble, with a few early subscribers driving the market, while the majority of people are going 'Meh'. There are also other concerns such as the legal status of the image, copyright ownership and the fact a huge amount of energy is being consumed to basically generate no real value, only virtual ones.

    Of course I could be wrong and in 20 years time we will all be lovingly downloading our owned digital prints to display to our expectant descendants rather than the actual limited edition physical object. However something tells me that an original physical manifestation of say a painting will have better long term value than say the digital print of that object even if it is the only one signed by the objects creator

  5. nintendoeats Silver badge

    "The bottom line is that millennials and Gen Z especially have digital lives and it's natural to want to take digital representations of luxury brands, music and art into these worlds – and now they can – and this has value."

    What? I have been able to bring digital representations of these things into the digital realm for a very long time. I still can. And that whole thing about equating NFTs to the internet...what an ass.

    Yes yes, preaching to the choir, not saying anything new. I am just fablerghasted.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      The bubble bursting can't come soon enough, but the speaker of that tripe will have safely found another one to inflate.

    2. Old Tom

      I wouldn't want a 'luxury brand' at all, whether in the real or digital world.

    3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      The whole art world thing is nothing about the art and everything about bragging rights. Why else would there be such an industry dedicated to proving originality (or otherwise) of artworks when the owner can't tell whether it's real or not?

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        I think "proving originality" might be too strong a phrase. Viewers of Fake or Fortune will be familiar with catalogues raisonnés and institutes or even individuals specialising in authenticating the works of dead artists. Sometimes a reasonable case can be made for rejecting an object by the presence of later materials (but was it later retouching?) but all too often actual proof is out of reach. In such cases it seems to come down to personal opinion and a better approach would be to say "It's not possible to be definitive but these are my observations and this is my interpretation of them" allowing for the situation that opinions will differ between experts and over time - which will happen anyway. Being upfront about this would, however, rather get in the way of such high-priced sales.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          re: Fake or Fortune?

          I saw one about a Monet painting of a river and trees. On the TV it looked beautiful. Completely in the style of Claude Monet. The arbiters of whether any picture is a genuine Monet is a particular institute in France. The painting had been assessed by them previously as not being a Monet, by the current head's father (now deceased). In the meantime the British owners had acquired some more detail of the provenance. Including a history of sale by Monet's dealers, the purchase by a known purchaser of impressionist art around the time it was painted. (All the materials were of the right period.)

          So they re-submitted. And the answer came back that the institution did not believe that Monet painted such a picture at that time.

          Of course the owners had made some serious mistakes:

          1 They were English

          2 They were not aristocratic

          3 They were expecting a French institution to admit to having been wrong in the first place

          4 They were probably right*

          The problem I have with programs like 'Fake or Fortune?' is that they really are mostly interested in the monetary value, rather than the beauty of the art

          *OK so I only saw it on TV, but it was stunningly beautiful, and frankly, if you could paint that well at that time, you would put your own name on the pictures and sell them yourself.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: re: Fake or Fortune?

            Yeahhh....the problem is that most normal people like you or I don't particularly care about the value or a piece of art...and the majority of them don't particularly care who made it. All we/they care about is "Do we like it?"

            This is why posters of famous paintings sell. We aren't bothered about whether it's "the original", as long as it looks nice and gives the room the effect we want.

            The art world isn't like that though. The "story" behind a piece...who made it, who owned it, how much it's worth...carries far more weight than the piece itself.

        2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

          Perhaps instead of proving originality, I should have said 'attempting to persuade a self-appointed group of alleged experts with a serious interest in maintaining their perceived impartiality that they are both partial and wrong'?

          If you can't tell whether it's by a grand master or it's a copy, it's a distinction without a difference... except for the number of zeros on the end of the price.

  6. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "The sooner this insanity ends the better."

    Insanity like this in principle has been around and come around numerous times over several centuries. Among a rather turgid miscellany of irrelevant stuff, Charles Mackay's Extraordinary Popular Delusions (1852) lists half a dozen instances of silly ideas that took an entire population by storm (far more extensively than NFTs), not least the South Sea Bubble of 1727, when hundreds of speculators ruined themselves buying the worthless stock of (in many cases patently) bogus companies. One such advertised itself as a company with a purpose so secret it could not be divulged. It was - they raised a huge sum by selling bogus stock and absconded to America.

    On occasion, however, mass manias can have an even more harmful character. In 1731 the villagers of St. Medard started worshiping the tomb of the 17th century Jansenius, Bishop of Ypres. A cult developed involving eating earth from around Jansenius' tomb, voluntarily induced violent convulsions and "an urgent instinctive desire for certain extreme remedies, sometimes of a frightful character,--as stretching the limbs with a violence similar to that of the rack,--administering on the breast, stomach, or other parts of the body, hundreds of terrible blows with heavy weapons of wood, iron, or stone,--pressing with main force against various parts of the body with sharp-pointed swords,--pressure under enormous weights - exposure to excessive heat, etc." [The Convulsionists of St. Medard. Hon. Robert Dale Owen, The Atlantic Monthly. VOL. XIII. Feb., 1864 in two parts].

    Ultimately some 800 people fell into this cult, which did nobody any good and not a few serious physical harm. despite it having no charismatic leader. It just spread spontaneously through the population.

    On the face of it a few extremely rich folk wasting their money buying a hash seems quite mundane by comparison.

    1. Chris G

      Re: "The sooner this insanity ends the better."

      If you peruse some of the absurd rubbish on the internet, including flat Earth, free energy and End of Days and the Book of Enoch quotes, the population is just as likely to be swallowed up by idiotic fads and beliefs as it ever was. The human race must have a gene for it but the gene is expressed more strongly in some.

      I bet if you plastered it everywhere, you could get a cult of St Digitus the Infungible a decent following in a couple of weeks of Twittering and Feacebooking, especially if you have an App for it.

      1. lglethal Silver badge

        Re: "The sooner this insanity ends the better."

        Are you trying to say that St Digitus does not have a following as it stands! HERETIC!!!

        May St Digitus corrupt all your data, open all your ports, and leave you to the mercy of the digital savages!

        Https be upon you...

        1. Chris G

          Re: "The sooner this insanity ends the better."

          Nooo! You really don't want to see all my ports opened.

          May the Infungible blessings of St Digitus be upon you!

  7. Victor Ludorum

    Have I missed something?

    If you watch the animated code entry 'film' on Sotheby's, it's been HTML-ified, all of the > characters have been replaced with >

    There are others in there as well.

    I'm not sure it would compile very well like that...

    Does the NFT contain that code or has someone cocked up?

    1. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Have I missed something?

      "Does the NFT contain that code or has someone cocked up?"

      As far as I'm aware the NFT is just an entry in a blockchain that is taken to imply ownership of the asset and probably contains a link pointing to where it resides on the web. The actual files aren't anywhere in the blockchain, so it's probably the auctioneer who's messed up when posting them on the web.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Have I missed something?

        Yup. An NFT is nothing more than a digital version of a "Certificate of Authenticity"

        Those can be easily faked, so I guess the advantage of an NFT is that you can prove it hasn't been altered. But having the NFT doesn't prove that you have the rights to the could still have been stolen, or sold under false pretences, or any of the other problems that ownership can carry. People can and do generate NFTs for art which isn't theirs, sell them pretending to be the artist....and the artist knows nothing about it until weeks down the line when they see somebody claiming that they own the piece of artwork trying to sell it on. It's a bit of a concern over at Deviantart at the moment, as well as other artist sites.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "hacking away on a NeXTcube workstation at CERN"

    Perhaps the workstation would have been a better collectible item.

    1. jimprdx

      >> Perhaps the workstation would have been a better collectible item.

      It is, but Sir Tim doesn't have it, it's on display at CERN :) If I had $5 million to waste, I'd rather spend it on that.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Give me a fifth of that and I'll happily sell you one of mine (shipping included, next-day and insurance extra). It's complete and fully functional, serial number less than 40 away from the supposed SirTim machine at CERN. WOW! What a deal! How can you pass it up?

  9. Danny 2

    The new abnormal

    My youngest nephews career ambitions were: social influencer: male model; professional games player. Naturally I mocked him. He has skills, he isn't totally daft, he's just easily distracted by bright, shiny things. What do I know though today? I once bumped into Beyonce but I've never heard her sing. I first heard Ed Sheeran recently in the excellent movie 'Yesterday'.

    My neighbour sent his son to me to ask me for advice on how to get a good technical apprenticeship because he knew I'd enjoyed one at his age. I was flummoxed and embarrassed because I had no good advice. There are no good technical apprenticeships here today. I recommended him using the internet to learn some in-demand skills.

    I have no envy or issue with impoverished artists hitching onto the NFT bandwagon. I note that Banksy hasn't even though everyone here could easily reproduce any of his work without copyright issues. I may resort to NFTs myself now my applications to Love Island and Naked Attraction have been rejected. Some of us are beautiful on the inside.

  10. Howard Sway Silver badge

    also dismissed the internet in the 1990s and the likes of Amazon in the 2000s as 'hype.'

    The difference, Mr Fynart-Fkwit, is that both of these are actually useful to people. The benefits are obviously attractive (even if I dislike the amoral online warehouse personally).

    By contrast, this is just sensationalism, a brief flash in the pan that your snobby secondhand shops will be able to milk for big commissions before it fades away like all the other briefly attention-grabbing hypes that pass by us on a regular basis online.

    If they'd only accepted bids in equally worthless crapto it might have had some merit as an artistic work of comment on digital hypes, but I will begrudgingly accept this one as it milked someone stupid for charity. Otherwise, I look forward to NFT prices getting ever lower and everybody giving up, leaving a few rich people feeling like fools.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Some traditionalist commentators have dismissed NFTs as a fad and/or a bubble about to burst," said Nigel Green, deVere Group chief executive and founder, of the market for such things ahead of the auction's close. "I would suggest that these would have been the people, including some tech experts, to have also dismissed [Pogs] in the 1990s and the likes of [Fidget Spinners] in the 2000s as 'hype.'


    See also tulips, pet rocks etc. And let's not forget that for every "successful", there were a thousand which weren't.

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