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Top 10 Internet Entrepreneurs
19th January 2011

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A look at some of the movers and shakers of the online business world

In 1991 the organisation CERN (the European Organisation for Nuclear Research) publicised the World Wide Web project, sparking a new computer science phenomenon, unprecedented levels of interpersonal communication and a new era in social behaviour. Twenty years on, the internet has proven to be not only a fantastic communication and information-sharing tool, but also a great opportunity for business expansion and entirely new entrepreneurial projects. While the technology has regrettably not yet brought us the yearned for hovercar, online businesses have diversified into areas which, a scant two decades ago, would have been considered something out of the realm of science fiction.

Today’s editorial collates ten of the most influential and innovative teams and individuals in internet business, based on recommendations from the Domains.co.uk team. Get inspired!

10. Michael Arrington: founder of TechCrunch

Tech news and analysis blog TechCrunch has long been an industry favourite but has been remarkably successful in garnering an amateur enthusiast audience too. Technorati rank TechCrunch in second place overall and first in its category, and in addition to its flagship blog the site has diversified into a number of side projects including web 2.0 job listings, podcasts and regional tech news sites. Their prestigious Crunchies awards provide valuable exposure for hot new companies and reward shoestring enterprises, prominent individuals and creative new ideas. Since the TechCrunch launch in 2005, Arrington has been named one of the most influential people on the internet by publications like Time and Forbes, and his fascination with web 2.0 has made him fantastically successful at generating interest in his enterprises, despite the small field in which he works.

9. Nick Denton: founder of Gawker media

Gawker Media is an online media company comprised of ten blogs, each with their own specific focus. Flagship blog Gawker is mainly concerned with celebrity news and gossip, while others find niche audiences interested in cars, gadgets, adult entertainment, science, style and sports. In 2009, 24/7 Wall St. estimated Gawker Properties value at a cool $300 million, although Denton is famously cagey about divulging statistics. This media group has been highly successful, using the low costs associated with online publication to carve out a faithful readership which in many cases is higher than those news sites launched off an existing platform, such as newspaper or television sites. (http://advertising.gawker.com/5032960/gawker-media-sets-all-time-traffic-record-in-july) Denton might have made it higher up on the list were it not for the embarrassing security leak in 2010, in which hacker group Gnosis published the usernames and passwords of many of Gawker’s 1.3 million commenters. However, part of Denton’s talent seems to be surviving crises which would sink lesser business owners and for his vision and resilience, we put him in 9th place.

8. Matt Mullenweg: WordPress developer

Highly customisable, easy to use and wildly popular, WordPress is a blogging software giant. According to recent research, WordPress is now the most popular CMS in use today, employed by over 13% of the 1,000,000 biggest websites. Source: http://w3techs.com/technologies/overview/content_management/all Offering users a vast range of tools such as plug-ins, integrated link management, tags, a free hosting service and a permalink system, WordPress is one of the few technologies which can get the geeks and the laymen equally excited. Search for Mullenweg and you’ll find very little information: his project, co-developed by honourable mentions Ryan Boren, Mark Jaquith, Andrew Ozz and Peter Westwood, truly speaks for itself.

7. Pierre Omidyar: founder and chairman of eBay

Both an astute businessman and a generous philanthropist, Omidyar famously wrote the original code for eBay over a long holiday weekend. Launched in 1995 as Auction Web, the site was renamed eBay in 1997 and now, sixteen years on, can boast annual revenue of US$2.389 billion. Its success is a tribute to both the originality of the idea and the truth of the maxim “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. While there are certain categories of product whose sale on eBay is prohibited, it’s worth looking at this list of some of the strangest things ever sold via the auction site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EBay#Unusual_sale_items Despite the success of this venture, Omidyar does not seem content to rest on his laurels and watch the profits roll in. In 2005 eBay acquired Skype, which now has 480 million registered users, and eBay also holds 25% of Craigslist.

6. Jimmy Wales: co-founder of Wikipedia and chairman of the Wikimedia Foundation

Early internet pioneers foresaw a world of free information-sharing and knowledge distribution. While sites today are increasingly moving away from those principles by charging for content, Wikipedia remains an exceptional project. The largest encyclopaedia in the world since 2007, Wikipedia is entirely funded by the non-profit charitable organisation Wikimedia Foundation (and past grants have included $2 million from Pierre Omidyar’s Omidyar Network). In a bid to expand the range of content it offers, Wikipedia has a number of specific sister sites such as Wikiquote and Wiktionary, but its flagship project remains the largest and garners between 25,000 and 60,000 page requests per second. Wales’ extensive promotion of the project, and his creation of the Wikimedia Foundation, earn him a solid sixth place.

5. Jeff Bezos: founder of Amazon

It’s hard to imagine a world without Amazon.com. Amazon is a simple, elegant concept executed with efficiency and expertise. Bezos chose the name for two reasons: for its connection to the largest river in the world, and also because it starts with “a” and is thus conveniently placed at the top of alphabetical lists. Known for his attention to detail, Bezos has not only scooped Time magazine’s Person of the Year award but has also set up Blue Origin, a privately-funded aerospace company with the goal of sending a tourist service into space. Closer to home, he has pioneered what he calls “artificial artificial intelligence” with the Amazon Mechanical Turk program, a crowd sourced internet marketplace which provides a forum for people to do tasks which computers cannot, such as choosing the best storefront image. An entrepreneur of diverse interests and talents.

4. Steve Jobs: co-founder and CEO of Apple

A businessman, entrepreneur, exective director and inventor in his own right: Steve Jobs displays an impressively broad range of talents for a university drop-out. Founding Apple in 1976, Jobs took a hiatus to set up NeXT, which subsequently was bought out by Apple. As the company developed its distinctive aesthetic style, Jobs excelled in the sales aspect of his role and managed to bring hi-tech design and software to the masses on an unprecedented scale. Jobs’ resume is certainly impressive but his management style is rumoured to be difficult to work with, and while Apple are inspirational in terms of ideas, their products are still rather cultish. For that reason Jobs only climbs to fourth place on our list.

3. Mark Zuckerberg: CEO and president of Facebook

Zuckerberg has the distinction of being our only top ten entrant who is the subject of a major motion picture. It’s not hard to see why: while Facebook competitors and forerunners like MySpace and Friendster flounder, Facebook is going from strength to strength and today it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t hold an account, let alone someone who’s never heard of this social networking success story. Time magazine’s Person of the Year 2010, Zuckerberg is a social networking fanatic who initially built the Facebook prototype for fun while still in university. Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has gathered a total of 500 million users.

2. Bill Gates: co-founder, former CEO and chairman of Microsoft

Like Steve Jobs, Gates dropped out of university to pursue his talent in coding. He formed Microsoft with business partner Paul Allen in 1976, and by 1981 was both president and chairman of the board. Microsoft’s most important product has perhaps been Windows, the first version of which was released in 1985. Gates initially spent much of his time coding, taking on a more management-based role as the company expanded. Today, he spends much of his time working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a charitable organisation which works in fields as diverse as access to information technology and provision of healthcare. The foundation earned Gates and his wife the joint title of Time magazine’s Person of the Year 2005.

1. Sergey Brin and Larry Page: founders of Google

Google’s first incarnation was created by Brin and Page in 1998, and they launched their first product in 2004. A mere seven years later, most of us use their brand name in everyday speech and their products to organise, filter, communicate, translate, discover and read about practically everything on the internet. Processing over one billion search requests a day, Google’s search engine has become an indispensable resource for internet users and with an impressive track record in developing new products and acquiring other companies such as YouTube, the Google empire shows no sign of slowing its astronomical growth. Brin and Page’s success stems from a tiny but hugely significant piece of invention: an entirely new search algorithm which takes into account the way in which sites link to one another to calculate relevance to the user. Brin and Page scoop first place in this top ten list: after all, without their product, how would we have found the other nine entrants?