The 50 most important people on the Web

Here's who's shaping what you read, watch, hear, write, buy, sell, befriend, flame, and otherwise do online

Despite what Time magazine would have you believe, you are not the most powerful or influential person on the Web. At PC World we love online personals, social networks, and videos of people falling on their keisters as much as the next person, but without the folks who create the Craigslists, MySpaces, and YouTubes of the world, much of the Web's potential would be lost among spam sites and other online detritus.

So who's making the biggest impact online? We considered hundreds of the Web's most noteworthy power brokers, bloggers, brainiacs, and entrepreneurs to figure out whose contributions are shaping the way we use the Web. We whittled the list down to the top 50 -- well, actually the top 62 -- people, but as you'll see, there are some you just can't separate. And don't despair: Get a little more traffic on your Web site, and you may show up on the list next year.

Important People #1 through #5

1. Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, and Sergey Brin

Executives, Google

When your stock price can top US$500 a share, you're collectively worth US$33 billion in cash, and you run the most trafficked search engine on the Internet, you can afford to do, well, pretty much whatever you want. Sergey Brin and Larry Page's little project from Stanford has grown into the Web's most talked-about powerhouse, and one of the few names on this list to have morphed into a verb. Schmidt left Novell to join the board of directors at Google in 2001 and soon became the company's CEO. Having conquered the online advertising world, Google seems to be gearing up for an acquisition spree, its headline-grabbing purchase of YouTube marking a big step toward complete domination of the Web.

2. Steve Jobs

CEO, Apple

No doubt you're sick of the media bonanza surrounding the every move of Apple's CEO, but when one man's appeal for DRM-free music reverberates around the world, it's hard to ignore the power he wields. Jobs popularized legal music downloads and legal TV and movie downloads. And though the iPhone won't be released for five months, its demonstration at MacWorld Expo suggested that this product might finally popularize Internet browsing on a mobile device.

3. Bram Cohen

Cofounder, BitTorrent

P2P systems like KaZaA and eDonkey are so last year. The future is all about BitTorrent, the brainchild of math wizard and programming wunderkind Bram Cohen. BitTorrent, developed in 2001, has gained in popularity as a way to download large files (like movies) by sharing the burden across hardware and bandwidth. The technology's adeptness at handling large files got Cohen in trouble with the Motion Picture Association of America, which ordered BitTorrent to remove copyrighted content from its network. But that setback hasn't slowed it down. Reportedly, more than a third of all Web traffic now comes from BitTorrent clients. BitTorrent and the entertainment heavyweights have since joined forces. The newly released BitTorrent Entertainment Network launched recently with thousands of industry-approved movies, television shows, games, and songs for sale and rental.

4. Mike Morhaime

President, Blizzard Entertainment

In the world of online gaming, there is World of Warcraft and there is everything else. With 8 million players worldwide, Blizzard earns about US$1.5 billion a year on WoW. And each player is breathlessly beholden to Mike Morhaime for the chance -- if it ever comes -- to obtain that Blade of Eternal Justice. As with Second Life, entire real-world businesses are based around the game. Unlike Second Life, though, these businesses -- which exploit the WoW economy and gameplay -- are not entirely welcome.

5. Jimmy Wales

Founder, Wikipedia

Many onliners treat Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia as their first and last stop in researching a topic; and its user generated content has become so reliable that Nature magazine declared it "close to [Encyclopaedia] Britannica" in accuracy. The site has been cited as a source of information in more than 100 U.S. court decisions since 2004. But its popularity has also made Wikipedia a target for spammers -- so much so that Wikipedia temporarily blocked the entire country of Qatar from making edits. To thwart spammers, Wales decided to slap "nofollow" tags on external links, telling search engines to ignore the links in order to avoid artificially inflating the search engine ranking of the link targets. This strategy ensures that Wikipedia's prominence in search results will continue to grow. But Wikipedia may just be the beginning for Wales. He recently launched his own search engine, WikiSeek, which searches only sites mentioned in Wikipedia.

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