Tim Berners-Lee Gets $5.4 Million For Buggy Code
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 02 July 2021

Sir Tim Berners-Lee jumped on the NFT bandwagon and put some artifacts relating to his original source code for the world wide web up for sale. The lot sold for $5.4 million, but the irony is that one element of the NFT is riddled with scripting errors.

To date the most lucrative sale of an NFT (non-fungible token) a certificate of ownership for digital assets was for a .jpeg file, which netted over $69 million for its creator Beeple, see David Conrad's report from March 2021. With a more modest result Twitter founder, Jack Dorsey sold his first Tweet for $2.9 million. In June Sir Tim Berners-Lee created a NFT with the title ‘This Changed Everything’ including time-stamped documentation of the internet’s creation, notably its source code 

The online auction, conducted by Sotheby's ran from 23 - 30 June, with an opening bid of $1,000. Bidding had risen to $3.5 million on the final day of the auction but a flurry of bids in the closing 15 minutes resulted in an anonymous buyer paying $5.4 million - and within hours came the revelation that the code is full of bugs.

OK, there's no suggestion that the source code is wrong or ever has been wrong. But then it's not the source code that was put on sale - it was put into the public domain in 1993 by CERN, the organization Berners-Lee worked for when he wrote the code, and it remains available for anyone to inspect, copy, modify, etc. It is what has been created as an NFT that contains very obvious errors.

The NFT comprised four items, all digitally signed:

  • the original time-stamped files of the source code, in their original format
  • a document written this year in which Berners-Lee reflects on the code and the process of creating it 
  • a digital poster of the code - a visual representation that contins all of the lines of the code
  • an animated video of the code being written

OK, there's no suggestion that the source code is wrong or ever has been wrong. But then it's not the source code that was put on sale - it was put into the public domain in 1993 by CERN, the organization Berners-Lee worked for when he wrote the code, and it remains available for anyone to inspect, copy, modify, etc.

It is the final item an animation in the form of a back and white video without sound, which appears to show the almost 10,000 lines of the code being entered into a console that, since the auction ended, has attracted attention for being buggy.

Take a look at this:

bernersNFT

Notice all the HTML character entities - all the ampersands.

For example:

if(*p1>='0'&&p1<='9'){/ Numeric node address: */

 instead of:

if(*p1>='0'  &&  p1<='9'){ / Numeric node address: */

What has happened is obvious - the code has been converted to HTML Character entity. This is also very likely an anachronism as it is unlikely that Character entities were included in the very first version of HTML. Notice that calling this a bug is very unfair as with some simple changes the code is probably correct - it is just the encoding that has gone wrong. My best guess is that someone simply pasted the code into an HTML page and the editor made the substitutions, which were then pulled out as raw text - why isn't clear.

It has been suggested that this blunder could make the NFT even more valuable - just like a flaw in a banknote or a sheet of stamps adds value by rarity value. But the NFT is unique and not the entity that it marks, so how does an error in the material that has been sold relate to the fact that the original almost certainly didn't have the defect? 

The whole question of NFTs is still controversial. Berners-Lee never made any money for the code he wrote that serves as the foundation of today's Internet - and still hasn't. The proceeds of this sale are going to causes nominated by him and his wife. The auction was also criticized on the grounds that NFTs are inherently bad for the environment, one of the reasons that the phenomenon might proved short-lived. However Sotheby's, which presumably did make a tidy sum from the sale has pledged to pay for a carbon offset for the “minting and transaction costs of the sale”.

At the end of the day the code is still in the public domain and is free of bugs - well at least it isn't littered with unnecessary ampersands.

 

tblsignature

More Information

Sotheby's - Source Code For the WWW

Related Articles

World Wide Web's 30th Anniversary

The Web - The Early Years 

Tim Berners-Lee Awarded Turing Prize

To be informed about new articles on I Programmer, sign up for our weekly newsletter, subscribe to the RSS feed and follow us on Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin.

 

Banner


Node.js Adds OpenSSL 3 Support
25/10/2021

Node.js, the JavaScript runtime, has been updated. Node.js 17 includes support for OpenSSL 3 and APIs that have been reworked for Promises, along with updated platform support. 



Streamlit 1.0 Adds Developer Support
18/10/2021

Streamlit, an app framework for machine learning and data science, has been updated. Streamlit 1.0 has been enhanced to move from a simple way to work with data and models to providing ways to develop [ ... ]


More News

square

 



 

Comments




or email your comment to: comments@i-programmer.info

 

 

Last Updated ( Friday, 02 July 2021 )