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Iconic 'Doge' meme NFT breaks record, selling for $4 million

The meme of an excited Shiba Inu named Kabosu is officially the most expensive meme NFT ever sold.
Illustration of the Doge meme in a gilded frame.
NBC News; Getty Images

"Doge," the image of an excited-looking Shiba Inu considered one of the internet's most iconic and renown memes, has sold as a nonfungible token, or NFT, for $4 million, making it the most expensive meme NFT of all time.

On Friday, the auction winner, @pleasrdao, placed a willing bid of 1,696.9 of the cryptocurrency Ethereum, worth approximately $4 million, according to the auction site Zora.

"We're so happy to be a part of this milestone in internet history. If any meme deserved to be the new meme NFT record holder, it's Doge," said Don Caldwell, editor-in-chief of the internet meme database Know Your Meme, which certified Doge ahead of the auction to ensure that the meme was being sold by its rightful owner.

Caldwell added that Doge, which he called "one of the most iconic memes in internet history," had previously won Know Your Meme's 'Meme of the Decade' award in December 2019.

The meme was first put up for auction on Tuesday by Atsuko Sato, the owner of Kabosu, the dog from the image, and ran for roughly three days before being sold to @pleasrdao.

A bidding war for the meme broke out on Zora, where Doge was being auctioned, between users @twodollahotdoge and @pleasrdao on Friday afternoon, driving up the price until @pleasrdao prevailed with the winning bid.

The term "Doge" stems from the Flash cartoon "Homestar Runner." In a 2005 episode, the titular character Homestar calls another character his "D-O-G-E." Five years later, in 2010, Sato posted the image of Kabosu to her personal blog, not realizing the photo would take on a life of its own.

“I took the photos to update my blog,” Sato said in a statement. “I take a lot of pictures every day, so that day was nothing out of the ordinary. Kabosu loves having her photo taken, so she was delighted to have the camera pointed towards her.”

The photo made the rounds on sites like Tumblr and Reddit in the early 2010s, and when a Reddit user referred to the image of Kabosu as "Doge," the name stuck and the meme was born.

“When I first found out about the Kabosu memes, I was very surprised. I was terrified at the thought that just one photo I had casually posted on my blog could spread all over the world to places I didn’t know,” Sato said.

The meme is usually formatted with the image of Kabosu, her paws crossed and a slight smirk on her face, surrounded by broken English phrases like "Wow. So scare" and "What r u doing?"

Doge's popularity has had a recent resurgence due to Dogecoin, the cryptocurrency branded after the meme. Although Dogecoin has been around for several years, it spiked in popularity after Tesla CEO Elon Musk endorsed it on social media this year.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the NFT will go toward several charities, including the Japanese Red Cross Society and the World Food Programme.

NFTs are a kind of certificate of authenticity. The NFT is a string of unique characters. The characters are connected to a blockchain, a group of computers that act as a digital ledger that no one computer can change. The same concept powers cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but while bitcoins are all essentially the same, NFTs are nonfungible, or unique.

An NFT of Doge would not act as a copyright, however, according to Decrypt, a website that covers cryptocurrency. The NFT is more like a digital autograph from the meme creator, Decrypt reported, certifying authenticity — similar to an autographed baseball card.

There has been a recent influx of memes being sold as NFTs, which some experts have called a "meme gold rush."

Other memes that rival Doge include "Disaster Girl," which sold for 180 of Ethereum, worth roughly $430,000 at the time of sale, and "Overly Attached Girlfriend," which sold for 200 Ethereum, worth roughly $482,000 at the time, according to the auction site Foundation. An NFT of "Pepe the Frog" sold for roughly $1 million, according to The Washington Post.

Seven other images of Kabosu, certified by Know Your Meme, will be sold as NFTs and put up for auction starting on Friday.