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Jimmy Wales is Auctioning the "Birth of Wikipedia" as an NFT
And some Wikipedians are upset.
Back in January 2001, Wikipedia’s co-founder typed the words “Hello, World!” into the new internet encyclopedia. This week, Wales is selling a nonfungible token (or NFT) on the Ethereum blockchain based on what he has described as the first-ever Wikipedia edit. Auction house Christie’s is offering the token from Dec. 3-15 alongside the Strawberry iMac that Wales used at the time of Wikipedia’s launch. According to Christie’s, the buyer of NFT will receive a re-creation of Wikipedia from its first moments of existence, based on code from the earliest available backup of the site.
The “Birth of Wikipedia” NFT auction listing evokes a certain nostalgia for the internet’s early days, with its plain text interface and basic homepage. The new auction resembles an earlier sale by Tim Berners-Lee, known as the inventor of the World Wide Web, who sold an NFT representing the source code to the original web browser for $5.4 million this year. Sources told me that Christie’s likewise expects the unofficial Wikipedia NFT to sell for millions of dollars.
But many of the volunteers who edit Wikipedia have serious reservations about Wales selling this NFT, with some suggesting that that it completely contradicts the ethos of Wikipedia as a free knowledge project. “Why the heck would you do this?” said one Twitter user to Wales. “NFTs are all about attempting to create artificial scarcity, and in this moment of time, profit. Wikipedia is the opposite of both of those.”
There is at least one similarity between the Wales NFT and the larger NFT discourse: It’s really hard to describe what the buyer actually owns.