TO paraphrase Gandhi: First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. And then — when you black out the sixth-largest website on the planet for an entire day — you win.
This is what Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales learned about power on Jan 18, 2012. The online encyclopedia had once been a novelty: Written by everyone, it could contain errors from anyone, as when Stephen Colbert doctored the entry for George Washington in 2006, asserting falsely that he had not owned slaves. But the idea behind Wikipedia was powerful enough to survive pranks, as the service grew to become an essential reference tool for hundreds of millions of users. And late last year, when two bills working their way through the US Congress threatened the site’s ability to function, Wales knew it was time to flex his digital muscles.
In co-ordination with other web giants, Wikipedia went dark in protest, a blunt demonstration to lawmakers of just how dependent the wired world had become on its model. Less than 48 hours later, the legislation was dead.
This is what it means to have power in the world of technology in 2012. It’s not an abstract quality that a promising person or company might wield tomorrow. It’s actual influence, a lever worked to measurable effect today.
Power, in its many facets, is the common property of the 100 names in the pages that follow. Drawing on 10 panels of experts, from financiers to hackers to wonks, Newsweek and The Daily Beast set out to inventory the most influential players in the digital space, as nominated by their peers, with an eye toward reach, impact, and innovation (our methodology here). Our editors also picked a separate list of 10 Lifetime Achievement winners, whose sway merits special notice.
In a sector as sprawling as tech — where “genius” might describe the idea to monetise LOLcats as readily as the way transistors are crammed onto a chip — power takes many forms. Some of the names on our list, such as Tim Cook, derive theirs from an obvious history of success. As Steve Jobs’s No 2 at Apple, Cook’s genius for operations gave the company’s designers and engineers precious advantages in creating futuristic devices. He has continued that work as CEO, lifting Apple’s already stratospheric stock more than 50% since Jobs’s death. There are others we include who derive their power more from potential: In the streaming service Spotify, has Daniel Ek delivered yet another revolution in the way we listen to music?
Not every member of our list has had a good year. Though he still controls the world’s largest social network, Mark Zuckerberg presided over an IPO that proved a disaster for investors, with reverberations felt far beyond the technology sector: A cooling IPO market means less value for every company that wants to grow by offering shares to the public.
As CEO of a listed company, Zuckerberg now faces some of the same pressures as an older innovator on our list: Larry Page, 39, now in his second year atop Google, the company he founded. Between Google search, YouTube, Android, Gmail, Chrome, and dozens of other properties, he has as much power as anyone in Silicon Valley. But as the digital world gets more social — a market Google has struggled to crack — and spends more time inside walled-off apps, could that influence be on the wane?
The categories of our Digital Power Index are broadly drawn, interdisciplinary, and — like all such lists — designed to cause a stir. The names were selected entirely by our panellists, who run the gamut from the establishment (two members of Facebook’s board of directors) to the recently incarcerated Kim Dotcom. But on the question of power in technology, all of our judges are expert. Look for more of them to join the index in years to come. THE VISIONARIES
10. BRIAN CHESKY, Founder, Airbnb
One of the companies launched through Paul Graham’s Y Combinator startup incubator, Airbnb is a “hospitality exchange service” that allows users to rent living space on a short-term basis. Chesky cofounded it in 2008 with Joe Gebbia, a classmate from his years at the Rhode Island School of Design. The site now boasts vacancies in 19,000 cities and 192 countries. Since Jun 2010 he has been hopping from one Airbnb home to another, in an attempt to “grasp the full impact and experience” of his company.
9 DAVE MORIN
Founder and CEO, Path
Path is, in essence, an online journal that can be shared with a close circle of friends. The mobile app notched 2m users earlier this year, following relatively rapid growth after the release of an updated version in late 2011. Morin created the company in 2010 as an alternative to Facebook, where he had worked since 2006 when the site had just 10 million users.
He also did an early stint at Apple, where he developed the platform that allows developers to build Facebook applications.
Trivia fact: Morin was previously a nationally ranked downhill skier.
8. MARK PINCUS
Something of a serial entrepreneur, Mark Pincus launched his first startup in 1995. Since then, he’s started a handful of ventures, including software company SupportSoft and social content startup Tribe Networks. But co-founding online game-maker Zynga has been his biggest success: the social game network has more than 200m users. Zynga garnered flack for a revenue model that was tied too closely to Facebook, but Pincus has since expanded the model.
7. JOHN DONAHOE
Donahoe took the helm of eBay in 2008, following Meg Whitman’s tenure, after working for two decades at Bain & Co. He has also served as interim CEO of PayPal since the beginning of this year.
Under his leadership, eBay has increased profits, sold off Skype to Microsoft, and acquired Germany’s largest lifestyle retailer.
Also, PayPal introduced a mobile payment system to challenge competitor Square, a mobile payment company started by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.
5. BEN SILBERMANN
Arguably this year’s hottest internet company, Pinterest is a digital scrapbook with a social bent. Founder Ben Silbermann was a product designer at Google when he quit, hoping to indulge his creative side. After months of floundering, he and a college friend came up with Pinterest and founded it in Mar 2010. The site’s success was anything but immediate. Then, bolstered by word-of-mouth and tech-industry coverage, Pinterest attracted 8 million people in April.
4. REED HASTINGS
After spending $40 in late fees at his local video store, Reed Hastings came up an idea for a better video-rental service and cofounded Netflix with Marc Randolph in 1998. The company’s innovative business model, opinion algorithms, and efficient hiring (and firing) practices have helped it grow its customer base to 23m. Despite missteps last year, including a pricing change and a spinoff of its DVD business that was ultimately nixed, Hastings continues to adapt the company’s business to fit changing viewing habits. Next up: Turning Netflix into a streaming network with original programming.
3. MARK ZUCKERBERG
Mark Zuckerberg is at the centre of the most hyped and most watched tech event of the year: The Facebook IPO. The social-media wunderkind, who wed his longtime girlfriend Priscilla Chan the day after the company’s May 18 IPO, founded Facebook from his Harvard dorm room. As it has grown into the largest social media site in the world (900m users), he’s transitioned from an anti-social and misanthropic programmer to superstar CEO. Given the lacklustre and litigious IPO, though — the stock price plummeted on initial weeks of trading, and investors have filed lawsuits alleging the company hid negative information regarding the IPO — his leadership skills have been called into question. On the bright side, the growing pressures may offer a chance for Zuckerberg, only 28, to redefine his influence.
2. LARRY PAGE
“Don’t be evil” is the motto around which Page and his co-founder Sergey Brin built the company that completely transformed internet search. Consistently honoured for spawning search-engine innovation, Page, 39, was named Google’s CEO last year. He’s reportedly been interested in maths and science since he was a kid (“I really wanted to change the world,” he told Wired), and his time at Google has been marked by creative decisions that have changed the course of the company’s history. He is responsible for discovering Android, the mobile software startup that Google acquired, and has been integral to the pursuit of endeavours like Google Book Search and the self-driving car.
1. JEFFREY BEZOS
Like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard before him, Bezos started his venture from his garage. Amazon redefined retail, creating a new way for consumers to shop.
Launched in 1994, Amazon is one of the most successful startups to weather the dotcom bust, but its efficiency and expansion haven’t been without friction from competitors. Bezos also launched Blue Origin, whose goal is to make travel to outer space accessible and safe for all of us nonastronauts. THE INNOVATORS
10. JASON KILAR
What Skype did for talking to your loved ones, Hulu has done for watching your favourite TV shows. Initially free, Hulu continues to push the medium toward a seamless broadcast-to-Web experience. The site, which now offers subscriptions for extra content, has netted 2m subscribers since its introduction in 2010. With the added revenue stream, Kilar has his sights set on expanding Hulu’s original content, potentially turning Hulu from a service for viewing television programming on the internet into an online television network.
9. DANIEL EK
With his wildly popular (and legal) music-streaming service, Ek may at last have cracked the code that Napster and a thousand of its clones could not. Specifically, Ek has convinced thousands of record labels and musicians to make their music available to users for free — the money comes in through advertisements and subscriptions. Spotify’s biggest challenge was apparently from Apple’s iTunes.
At last month’s All Things Digital Conference, former Facebook rabble-rouser (and current Spotify director) Sean Parker said Apple was initially “threatened” by Spotify, which is part of why it took two and a half years of negotiations to bring it to America.
8. NIK ZENNSTRÖM
Video calls used to seem like a fantasy for the distant future, but when Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis unleashed Skype in 2003, video phoning became low-cost and accessible. In 2005, eBay bought the company for $2.5bn, then sold it to investors in 2009 for $2.75bn.
In 2011, Microsoft bought it for a whopping $8.5bn.
Zennstrom is a leading figure in tech venture capital via his firm Atomico — whose investment in Angry Birds parent Rovio is estimated to be worth more than $225m, according to Business Insider.
7. DREW HOUSTON
Drew Houston built Dropbox, the cloud-based file-sharing service, with his former MIT classmate and fraternity brother Arash Ferdowsi in 2007. The startup went through Y Combinator, Paul Graham’s prestigious programme for new ventures, and remains one of its most successful investments.
Dropbox now counts 50m users, and, at 29 years old, Houston has become one of Silicon Valley’s wealthiest young innovators. He remains at the helm, while Ferdowsi is the company’s CTO.
6. SALMAN KHAN
Founder, Khan Academy
A graduate of Harvard Business School grad and former hedge-fund manager, Salman Khan in 2006 started Khan Academy as an informal series of tutorial videos on the then relatively new video-sharing site called YouTube.
He got the idea to distribute the videos after tutoring family and friends virtually.
Today, with more than 3,200 video tutorials covering maths, science, finance and humanities, Khan Academy offers an innovative portal that could revolutionise the American educational system. Among Khan Academy’s high-profile fans are Microsoft founder Bill Gates, as well as Silicon Valley investor John Doerr.
5. TIM COOK
For more than 14 years, Cook was Steve Jobs’ right hand man at Apple (Jobs once said that he searched for a chief operations manager for nine months before finding Cook, a man Jobs said he saw “eye-to-eye with”). Since Jobs’ death last August, Cook has impressively filled his predecessor’s shoes with hardly a stumble. The former IBM and Compaq exec, known in his own right as a visionary master of supply-chain intricacies and product distribution, has found ways to complement Jobs’ inspired sense of product design with a global manufacturing and delivery system so efficient that Apple’s stock price has soared 50% on his watch.
4. KEVIN SYSTROM
As the co-founder of one of the internet’s biggest startup success stories — he started Instagram in 2010 along with fellow Stanford alum Mike Krieger — Kevin Systrom is in the money. In less than two years, and with only 13 employees, the photo-sharing app amassed 35m users, leading to a $1bn acquisition by Facebook in April.
Systrom previously worked at Odeo, the podcasting service started by Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, and Google, where he spent two years in products and corporate development.
3. DAVID KARP
Even by the standards of tech founders, David Karp has an unusual backstory. He dropped out of high school after the ninth grade, lived in Tokyo while working as the CTO of parenting site UrbanBaby, and founded the über-popular blogging site Tumblr when he was just 20. The company hosts more than 50m blogs, forcing Karp to lead the company into new territory.
2. JACK DORSEY
Chairman, Twitter; Founder and CEO, Square
Who would have thought 140-character text messages could help fuel citizen revolutions? Jack Dorsey, co-founder and chairman of Twitter, specialises in “simple ideas with outsize impact”, as Wired put it last year. His latest outsize venture, the mobile payment startup Square, centres on a small plastic square that fits into your smartphone’s headphone jack. Square users accept $2bn a year in credit-card payments. Square is muscling in on larger firms like PayPal that are vying to run small-business transactions.
1. SERGEY BRIN, CO-FOUNDER GOOGLE
Sergey Brin’s obscure work with Larry Page on search-engine development turned both men into billionaires and changed the way information is accessed and disseminated online. While the company they built has transformed itself into a behemoth that defines most users’ experience of the internet, Brin, who emigrated from Russia at age six, developed a side interest in gene mapping after his mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Since discovering he has a genetic mutation matching his mum’s, he has given over $50m to the study of the disease. THE BUILDERS
10. JEFF ATWOOD
Co-founder, Stack Overflow
Jeff Atwood is a man unafraid of choosing his own path. In Mar 2008 he left his job as technical evangelist at a software company, where he also ran a popular coding blog, to build something of his own. Seven months later, Stack Overflow was launched. The site, a Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers, quickly became a favourite for developers, and now hosts 1.2m users. But in February of this year, four months after the death of Steve Jobs, Atwood walked away from it all.
“I finally realised that success at the cost of my children is not success,” Atwood wrote in a blog post detailing his reasons for leaving the company. “It is failure.” The tech community overwhelmingly supported the move. “Kudos to @codinghorror for not only building a great product,” one designer tweeted, “but for knowing what’s truly important and acting on it.”
9. EDWARD TUFTE
Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Statistics, and Computer Science, Yale University
Edward Tufte, 70, is considered by many to be the pioneering thinker in data visualisation and information design, and his impact is felt across a wide variety of industries.
A Yale professor and the author of several bestselling books, Tufte (pronounced TUFF-tee) has taught nearly a quarter of a million students as a touring lecturer, giving a one-day course, Presenting Data and Information, and he’s credited as the designer behind that squiggly line — a sparkline — used to illustrate the ups-and-downs of stock market activity in “intense, simple, word-sized graphics”.
His most influential book, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information (1983), has sold nearly a million copies. “At their best,” Tufte has said, “graphics are instruments for reasoning.”
8. YUKIHIRO MATSUMOTO
Chief architect, Ruby, Heroku
“Matz,” as the 47-year-old Japanese programmer Yukihiro Matsumoto is affectionately called on the internet, is the creator of the Ruby programming language. Introduced in the 1990s, Ruby is an object-oriented language (meaning, when building code, a programmer can identify any bit of data as an individual object, making it easier to command) that has earned praise from the coding community for its simplicity and practicality.
After gaining a steady following in the open-source community, Ruby’s popularity exploded in part due to the Ruby on Rails framework developed by David Heinemeier Hansson (who is also featured on the Digital Power Index). In Jul 2011 Matz joined Heroku, a cloud-hosting company owned by Salesforce.com.
7. DAVID HEINEMEIER
Hansson Partner, 37signals
David Heinemeier Hansson is a Danish computer programmer most widely recognised for co-creating Ruby on Rails, a web application framework that is credited for making it easier for developers to write web applications (such as, say, Twitter, Hulu, or Scribd).
The Chicago-based software engineer, who got his first computer at age 6, is now a partner at 37signals, a software-development firm behind such services as Basecamp, a project-management tool, and Campfire, a group-chat tool.
6. MATT MULLENWEG
With a personal website like ma.tt, you know he’s a digital powerhouse. Matt Mullenweg was just 19 years old when he first began work on what would become WordPress. Now 28, Mullenweg, the founding developer of the popular open-source blogging software, has watched it grow to power more than 70m websites (it’s used by 49 of the top 100 blogs on the Web). Most recently, Mullenweg, who lives in San Francisco, was listed by Forbes as one of the most influential angel investors on AngelList, a funding platform that connects investors with entrepreneurs, through which he invests in five to six startups at $25,000-$100,000 a year.
5. TOM PRESTON-WERNER
Tom Preston-Werner is co-founder of GitHub, a social network for computer programmers who want to collaborate on software code. Preston-Werner started GitHub with PJ Hyett and Chris Wanstrath, another programmer in San Francisco, in late 2007 while working for a company called Powerset.
In 2008, when Powerset was acquired by Microsoft, Preston-Werner was faced with a $300,000 offer to stay on board or choose the riskier route to quit and continue with GitHub, he decided to take the gamble. Today GitHub ranks in the top 350 sites, according to Alexa, and is used and beloved by programmers worldwide.
4. JOHN RESIG
Dean of Computer Science, Khan Academy
3. BRAM COHEN
Chief Scientist and Co-founder, BitTorrent
His name is practically blacklisted in Hollywood, but it’s widely revered online.
Bram Cohen is the creator of the BitTorrent peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing system used by millions to transfer large files over the internet (or as the music and movie industries would put it, steal). First released in 2001, BitTorrent was the largest single source of all internet traffic for many years, until it was surpassed by the video-streaming site Netflix in May 2011. Cohen’s day-to-day, now, is to keep the service available and accessible for millions of users.
2. BRENDAN EICH
1. LINUS TORVALDS
Engineer, Linux Foundation
The Finnish-American software engineer created what’s known as the Linux “kernel” while a student at the University of Helsinki, Finland.
The kernel is a core piece of free, open-source software used by developers to build variations of Linux operating systems.
Today, Linus Torvalds is employed by the Linux Foundation, a nonprofit consortium that encourages the growth of Linux by providing developers around the world with the network and information to improve the free operating system.
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