Jimmy Wales sells first edition of Wikipedia as NFT

Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales sells a non-fungible token (or NFT) based on his first edition of the free encyclopedia. Christie’s auction house will be hosting a sale of the token from December 3 to 15, auctioning it alongside the Strawberry iMac Wales used in Wikipedia’s launch. The funds will go to charitable causes and to WT.Social, a social network supported by donations that Wales launched in 2019.

The Wales NFT is indeed the key to a very early version of Wikipedia, which debuted in January 2001. “What you see displayed is what Wikipedia looked like when I set up the software”, he said. The edge. The single page will be launched publicly on the web, and just like Wikipedia itself, anyone will be able to view and edit it. But all changes will be reverted after five minutes, reverting it back to its original state: a single change saying “Hello, World!” »Following a long tradition of programming.

The NFT, which is written in the Ethereum blockchain, encodes a smart contract that grants its buyer control of this website. The buyer can edit the window to undo the changes, and if they really want to, they can deactivate the edit or close the page. They can also take a completely stand-alone approach and let Wales manage the page for them.

An iMac Strawberry owned by Jimmy Wales in 2001

Jimmy Wales / Christie’s

The project is conceptually similar to an earlier sale by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who symbolized the source code of the first web browser and donated the proceeds from his sale to charity. Wales could easily have sold control of the website without using blockchain technology, but he says he was compelled by the idea of ​​publicly registered and verifiable ownership. “I think what’s particularly interesting is that for the first time we have an immutable and publicly distributed type of database, and it’s new and different,” he says. It probably doesn’t hurt that NFTs are a highly sought-after commodity that can auction off for huge sums of money – Berners-Lee’s source code token earned him $ 5.4 million.

Wales’ WT.social platform is a paid social networking experience, but not in the style of systems like Friends With Benefits which restrict access with high priced cryptocurrency tokens. Membership is free while encouraging members to pay for a subscription, similar to Wikipedia’s patronage model – a strategy to eliminate the bad incentives that ad-supported services can create online.

Wales has an ambivalent global relationship with blockchain technology. While the Wikimedia Foundation accepts Bitcoin donations, it says the money raised through it “hasn’t been huge.” And he believes that many of the applications of the technology proposed to Wikipedia are wrong, such as letting people pay publishers for the “best” changes with cryptocurrency. “I’m like, yeah, that sounds like a great way to let Exxon control what the page says about Exxon,” says Wales. Likewise, the permanent blockchain storage could make Wikipedia incredibly difficult to censor, but it would also make removing abusive, defamatory, or privacy-invasive edits a nightmare.

But Wales sees the potential for NFTs to complement traditional ways for artists to make money, especially around internet culture. He cites examples of meme images sold as NFT, something that doesn’t affect their availability but helps subjects gain brand awareness online in a way that intellectual property law has not done so far. “People just share [memes], normally in ignorance or in violation of any intellectual property rights – someone uploaded a cool image, and basically it went viral, and it’s everywhere, ”he says. “All of this is very difficult to apply.

Wales also draws parallels with the dot-com boom and bust of the late 1990s and early 2000s – a world where some businesses failed because they were part of a bubble. fueled by the hype, while others simply embarked on business models that were not yet technologically feasible. “We’re still a long, long way from the widespread adoption of cryptocurrencies,” says Wales, due to both its drawbacks and its adverse climate effects. He notes that Ethereum, although currently extremely energy intensive, is slated to move to a more environmentally friendly and a potentially more user-friendly system. “I think as we move in that direction,” he says, “then a lot of use cases that people aren’t really considering will start to look more interesting. “

For now, this NFT is supposed to offer a window into the launch of Wales’ own internet change project. “The artistic concept is to bring people back to that moment when I created the website and I had to think, ‘My God, this is so vulnerable. Like anyone can edit. It might just destroy everything, and I’ll be taken over by trolls in five minutes, ”he said.

Wales precisely described this experience to last month’s NFT.NYC convention, joking about how someone could create an early version of the homepage that has been disfigured by trolls. Which begs a question: Could someone sell a Wikipedia-based NFT, an encyclopedia where all content is licensed free for reuse?

“Because this is one of my personal art projects that I have been working on, I specifically chose a point in time before someone else ever touched Wikipedia because I didn’t want to feel like he was exploiting something. Says Wales. And if you imply that an NFT was an official Wikimedia Foundation project, you could be violating trademark law. But otherwise, “with everything on Wikipedia, it’s under a free license,” says Wales. “So if you want to do something, you pretty much can. “

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