Two weeks ago, World Wide Web creator Tim Berners-Lee sent an NFT of the web’s original source code to the auction block with a starting bid of just $1,000. Yesterday, Sotheby’s announced that the crypto asset sold for $5.4 million. The sum makes Berners-Lee’s work one of the priciest NFTs of all time.
The digital package included not just the source code but also a letter from Berners-Lee reflecting on the creation of the web, some original HTML documents, an SVG “poster” of thousands of lines of code, and a 30-minute visualization of the code being typed on a screen.
But there’s a twist. An eagle-eyed researcher pointed out on Twitter that the animation initially posted on the Sotheby’s site had errors in the code, possibly introduced when the person making the video fed the Objective-C code through an app or web service to produce the typing effect in the animation. Instead of angle brackets that are present in the code (< and >), the HTML codes for the symbols (< and >) appeared instead. On the poster, which was made by a Python script created by Berners-Lee, the brackets appear correct. Presumably, they are also correct in the code itself.
— @mikko (@mikko) June 30, 2021
The code was corrected in later animations, raising questions about this particular NFT and NFTs as a whole. It’s unclear whether the video posted on the listing page for the auction was pulled directly from the animation originally included in the NFT, and we’ve reached out to Sotheby’s for clarification. But if it was, and if the later, corrected animation reflects what was actually sold, it could mean that the original NFT was scrapped and a new one was created.
Since NFTs are little more than digital files attached to cryptographic certificates of authenticity, the NFT with the error would remain just as authentic as the one that was sold. The original certificate should still be present in the Ethereum blockchain, and the right public and private keys would be able to decrypt it.
If an NFT can be trashed and a new one created, is the new version worth more because it’s factually correct? Or would a typo version of Berners-Lee’s NFT be worth more because of its unique history? It wouldn’t be the first time a collectible gained value because of an error. Several thousand pennies minted in 1955 are worth up to $16,000, all because a misaligned die struck one side with two copies of “In God we trust,” “Liberty,” and “1955.”
In other words, Sotheby’s might be sitting on an NFT that’s even more rare than the one that fetched over $5 million.