In 2000, entrepreneur and bond trader Jimmy Wales founded Nupedia, an online encyclopedia for peer-reviewed articles written by experts. A year later, amid a slow trickle of sanctioned articles, he launched a supplementary open-source internet encyclopedia that used collaborative wiki software, and Wikipedia was born. In its two decades of existence, Wikipedia has attained an astonishing depth and breadth: the English Wikipedia alone — one of over 300 Wikipedia language editions — boasts over 6.4 million articles with more than 250 million page views a day.
This month, the genesis of our online collective memory was commemorated with a sale at Christie’s, in collaboration with Wales. Hosted — where else? —online, The Birth of Wikipedia sale took place from December 3 to 15 and offered up two lots: a 2000 strawberry iMac that Wales used to develop Wikipedia, and an NFT of the first Wikipedia edit, which was made by Wales on January 15, 2001, the day that the platform launched. The bidding on both items opened at a low $100. Wale’s iMac ultimately realized $187,500, while the NFT skyrocketed to $750,000.
Wales used the roseate personal computer for research and development in Wikipedia’s early days. As the Rubenesque desktop neared obsolescence, the device “was relegated to the room of his young daughter, who used it to play video games,” a statement from Christie’s said. An auction house representative told Hyperallergic that the computer is still functional, but “it is quite an old computer, and you can expect it to behave like so.” It comes with the original box.
In the NFT on offer, the first edit to Wikipedia — in which Wales typed, “Hello, World!”, a classic programming reference — is embedded in a recreation of the site’s original homepage from 2001. Structurally echoing a Wikipedia page, an interactive feature allows the buyer to grant anyone editing access to the NFT. A timer function resets the page to its original form after set intervals.
“It’s been over twenty years since I first typed in the words “Hello, World!” to launch Wikipedia– and even today, I’m still amazed at the size and breadth of what it has become,” said Wales in a statement.
Wales, who found himself disappointed with Facebook and Twitter, launched the alternative “nontoxic” social network WT.Social in October 2019; a portion of the proceeds from the auction will go toward the advertisement-free platform, which runs on donations. Some of the funds will also be directed toward “charities working in the free culture world,” a statement from Christie’s said.