2021 Was The Year Of The Digital Firsts NFT

In December 2021, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales auctioned an NFT of the first edit published on the online encyclopedia 20 years earlier (Photo © Wikipedia)

2021 was the year that a non-fungible tokens (NFTs) exploded to the point that they became the Collins dictionary word of the year. This trend for digital collectibles supported on the Ethereum blockchain and valued at an estimated $2b per month, largely focused on art. But their scarcity-based value principle means that a number of tech companies are also cashing in, by selling off their “first times” as NFTs.

A first SMS, a first tweet and the very first web code were among the digital first renderings to go under the hammer. While the proceeds from most lots were donated to worthy causes, that changes little for the speculative buyers who will be looking to trade, stake or sell them at a profit.

In addition to scarcity, a major factor for driving up value will be the community behind an NFT, says Jil Haberstig, a business psychologist and founder of the Luxembourg NFT community. “When it comes to assets like digital firsts, we have to think different because there is no such thing as a community behind,” she says, adding: “Instead, there are huge companies behind those NFTs and I’m curious to see if they can keep up with huge NFT communities like Bored Ape Yacht Club etc. However, a digital first will always be a digital first.”

These five examples show the appetite for digital firsts from the global tech players was far from sated in 2022.

The first ever SMS

Raising a six-figure sum, the “Merry Christmas” SMS sent by software engineer Neil Papworth to then Vodafone director Richard Jarvis in 1992 was sold by Vodafone on the Ethereum blockchain for €132,680 when it was auctioned off in December 2021. Vodafone donated the proceeds to the United Nations’ refugee programme. Fun fact: the media campaign for the unique and detailed replica of the original communication protocol written to send the first SMS was put co-created by players in Luxembourg.

First Tweet

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey was among the first to get on the “first” NFT ladder after flogging his first tweet as an NFT for over $2.9m back in March 2021. The digital collectible was sold over the Valuables platform, which is run by blockchain-powered social media network Cent. The treasured tweet reads: “just setting up my twttr,” and was first posted on 21 March 2006. The buyer, a tech firm CEO, likened the value of his NFT to “the Mona Lisa painting”, according to the BBC. Dorsey was reported as saying that he would convert the proceeds of the sale to bitcoin and then donate them to Give Directly’s Africa Response fund.

First viral video

In May, 2021, an NFT of one of the first ever viral videos, “Charlie bit my finger”, posted on YouTube in 2007, fetched $760,999 in an NFT sale. The original video, shot by the Davies-Carr family of brothers Charlie and Harry, received over 900 million views when it was finally taken down. According to the New York Times, profits from the original video helped the family send all four children to private school.

The World Wide Web

In June 2021, an NFT representing the original source code of the world wide web written by scientist Tim Berners-Lee sold for $5.4m in an online auction at Sotheby’s. The NFT was reportedly created by Berners-Lee in 2021 and contained files of the original source code written in 1990-1991, a 30-minute animated visualisation of the code, a digital poster of the code and a letter written by Berners-Lee in June 2021 reflecting on his ground-breaking invention. Head of science and popular culture at Sotheby’s Cassandra Hatton was quoted by Reuters at the time: “The symbolism, the history, the fact that they’re coming from the creator is what makes them valuable—and there are lots of people who collect things for exactly those reasons.”

Birth of Wikipedia

Shortly before the first SMS sale in December 2021, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales auctioned an NFT of the first edit published on the online encyclopedia 20 years earlier. “Hello, World!” was sold as an NFT on the Ethereum blockchain and fetched $750,000 at Christie’s. It was auctioned alongside Wales’ personal computer, a Strawberry iMac which, at $187,500, sold for less than the NFT. The NFT was presented in JPEG format was an interactive file enabling the buyer to edit the page, according to France24.

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