The Digital 100 Power Index

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Summers

They've made billions and toppled regimes. Now they want to rewire your world.

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 U.S. Congress threatened the site's ability to function, Wales knew it was time to flex his digital muscles. In coordination 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. (See box below for methodology.) 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 monetize LOLcats as readily as the way transistors are crammed onto a chip--power takes many forms. …