Nearly everyone on the Internet knows about Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos. Savvy geeks might even recognize Internet pioneers like Vint Cerf and Marc Andreessen.
But among the most powerful people on the Net are individuals whose names are unknown to the teeming masses on the InterWebs. Some of them control vital pieces of Internet infrastructure. Others decide which companies get funded, which websites get the lion’s share of the traffic, or whether sites will live to see another day.
Who really rules the Net? Read on. Just don’t get on the bad side of any of these ten power gurus.
Official title: Principal engineer at Google
Secret identity: Search ninja
As head of Google’s Search Quality (anti-Web-spam) team, Cutts is the guy who decides whether your website gets chucked down into the basement of Google page rankings for being too “spammy.” Over the past two years, Google has changed its search algorithms several times to lower the position of content farms, scrapers, ad-heavy pages, and other less worthy sites in Google’s search results.
Why you shouldn’t mess with him: One day you’re king of the Google hill; the next day your site’s holding a one-way ticket to Palookaville–and all it takes is a tweak of an algorithm.
Lawrence E. Strickling
Official title: Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Secret identity: The root master
Strickling may look like a typical federal bureaucrat, but as chief of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) he wields ultimate authority over the 13 DNS Root Servers that direct all of the Internet’s traffic. Type www.pcworld.com into your browser, and these machines translate it into an Internet protocol address (22.214.171.124) that Web servers can understand.
Reddit has surpassed Digg and Slashdot as the preeminent uber-geek aggregation site on the Web, thanks in large part to its role in initiating the “Internet Blackout” to protest SOPA and PIPA earlier this year. A member of the elite Silicon Valley PayPal Mafia, as well as former director of engineering at Facebook, Wong is also a consigliere at Quora, the question/answer social network.
Why you shouldn’t mess with him: If Reddit loves your site you’re flooded with traffic. If it doesn’t? Look what happened to SOPA and PIPA.
Why you shouldn’t mess with him: With a few months left on the job, Beckstrom’s got nothing to lose. And though ICANN has yet to name his successor, we understand Voldemort, Darth Vader, and Dr. Evil have all applied for the job.
Official title: Architect at Cloudera
Secret identity: Open sourceror
This open-source search guru is the creator of Hadoop, software that lets geeks manipulate massive amounts of data across multiple machines–creating the Big Data revolution that lets banks, telecom companies, social networks, and the government know more about you than they ever did before. He is also chair of the Apache Software Foundation, which oversees the open-source server software that two-thirds of the world’s websites use.
Why you shouldn’t mess with him: He’s a virtual one-man Google.
Official title: President of Clarium Capital Management
Secret identity: PayPal Mafioso
Made wealthy when eBay bought PayPal in 1999, the former PayPal CEO was an early investor in Facebook and runs his own $3 billion hedge fund. He’s also capo di tutti capi of the PayPal Mafia, whose members went on to fund and/or launch some of the most successful companies on the planet (YouTube, LinkedIn, Yelp, Flickr, and Digg) and beyond (SpaceX).
Why you shouldn’t mess with him: Because he can make start-ups an offer they cannot refuse.
Jim Q. Crowe
Official title: CEO of Level 3 Communications
Secret identity: Fiber king
When Level 3 completed its acquisition of Global Crossing last fall, it became the 800-pound gorilla of Internet backbone providers, offering more than twice as many network connections as its nearest rival. Via peering and transit agreements, Level 3 provides fiber-optic voice and data connections for thousands of service providers in the United States, Latin America, and Europe.
Why you shouldn’t mess with him: If your ISP gets into a spat with a backbone provider–as Comcast did with Level 3 in the fall of 2010–you could find yourself cut off from big chunks of the Internet. Better bring a good book to read.
Official title: Investor
Secret identity: Russian oligarch
The Moscow native created Mail.ru, the most popular website in Russia and the sixth largest in the world, according to Comscore. As founder of the $12 billion Digital Sky Technologies (now Mail.ru Group) investment fund, Milner was an early and influential sponsor of Facebook, Twitter, Zynga, Spotify, and Groupon. He now owns a $100 million home in Silicon Valley and a piece of every startup coming out of the Valley’s fertile Y Combinator incubator.