The First Edit to Wikipedia Is Being Auctioned as an NFT

The First Edit to Wikipedia Is Being Auctioned as an NFT
Jimmy Wales posing for a portrait in London, 2021. (Photo: Daniel Leal, Getty Images)

Another day, another piece of internet history being turned into a wildly expensive NFT. This time, that historical remnant comes from Wikipedia; on Friday, Christie’s Auction House announced it would be auctioning off the first edit made to the platform more than 20 years ago.

That edit — a “Hello, World!” written on the platform’s homepage — was originally penned by the site’s co-founder, Jimmy Wales, shortly after the site first rolled out to the public in mid-January, 2001. Since that initial post, Wikipedia’s expanded into, well, Wikipedia: an absolute behemoth of digital information featuring more than 6.4 billion articles spanning every topic you can possibly imagine, largely overseen by countless volunteer moderators from around the globe. As of this year, the free digital encyclopaedia’s the 13th most popular site on the web, with close to two billion people visiting the site each month.

Wales’ little greeting is hardly the first bit of e-history to be auctioned off. Back in June, Sotheby’s announced it would start accepting bids on an NFT of the original, time-stamped digital files from Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who’s credited with creating the World Wide Web in 1989. Before that, Jack Dorsey had sold off an NFT of his first-ever tweet for a hefty $US2.9 (A$4.14) million. NFT’s featuring more than a few classic memes from the early 2000s, meanwhile, have been sold off for similarly bonkers prices (an NFT of the infamous “disaster girl,” for example, sold in April for $US500,000 (A$713,770)).

It’s unclear what the final price will be on the NFT of Wales’ post — the bids start at $US100 (A$143), according to the auction’s latest update. Between now and December 15th, anyone can throw down bids both for that post and for the strawberry-coloured iMac computer that Wales used when he was first hammering out his first edits.

Because this is Wikipedia we’re talking about, whoever ends up being the final buyer for Wales’ initial post will be able to edit and revert his two-word message to their heart’s content. Opening the NFT to edits is Wales’s way of “express[ing] artistically” what he felt was “meaningful” about the moment that Wikipedia first came to be — “that you might make something amazing, or you might make something that doesn’t work at all,” he told Christie’s in a statement.

Whatever money Wales earns off this auction, according to the Christie’s announcement, will go towards supporting Wales’ current project, WT.Social, which he bills as a “non-toxic” alternative to major social platforms like Facebook or Reddit. Christies also says the funds will go towards supporting a “variety of charities” that align with Wales’ pro-free culture ethos.