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  • Giles Stuart - Tech Journalist

As the original WWW source code is sold, a coding error is spotted in the auction video

With the auction of Sir Tim Berners-Lee's original source code for the world wide web at Sotheby's, an error is spotted in the source code on the video accompanying the £3.9m ($5.4m) auction. The sale was in the form of a non-fungible token (NFT), a certificate of ownership of a digital asset, in this case, the time-stamped source code. While the animated video of the code being written was played during the auction, a researcher spotted 'a simple mistake' in the code, where the original source code had been converted into HTML.

The mistake in the code on the auction video was spotted by Mikko Hypponen from the security company F Secure, who had noticed that "<" and ">" had been translated into HyperText Makeup Language (HTML) as "&alt;&gt;". This 'mistake' is sometimes used to protect code, but in this instance on the auction video, it appeared to be just an error.

Sir Tim had created the world wide web in 1989 by connecting separate segments of information via hyperlinks on an early version of the internet. He created a web browser and server in order to access the information, but refused to patent his 'invention' and put it in the open domain. Even today, the core codes and protocols on the web are royalty free.

The actual auction isn't for the web itself, or the source codes, but just the picture made on the Python program written by of Sir Tim, of what the source code would look like if it were placed on a wall and signed by him.

When the auction video was set up prior to the Sotheby's auction, the original source code was pasted into HTML to set up the onscreen presentation and the error occurred during the text conversion and not an error in the original source code. The opening bid was $1,000 and the code finally sold for £3.9m with the proceeds going to charities chosen by Sir Tim and his wife.


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