When it comes to the Internet, the possibilities and opportunities for innovation and creative thinking are seemingly endless. The visionary programmers and software engineers listed here used their technological know-how and looked at things differently, revolutionizing the world of social media.
From the people who produced Internet Relay Chat to the brains behind Reddit.com, this roll call of techies is sure to inspire would-be programmers. Some of the names on the list are millionaires, others are practically unknown, but they’ve all made their mark – and most of them did it in code.
10. Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger – Instagram
In October 2010, Stanford grads, entrepreneurs and software engineers Kevin Systrom and Brazilian Michel “Mike” Krieger teamed up to create the social networking photo-sharing app we all know today as Instagram.
Systrom got his start in the online business world at Odeo (the company behind Twitter) and Google, while Krieger worked at Microsoft and for a firm called Meebo. Their inspiration for Instagram? Polaroid pictures.
Polaroids were the first truly instant pictures. Not only could they be taken on demand and shared immediately, but they also had rich, vibrant colors and that “vintage” feel.
Apparently that concept is still pretty hip, because, within hours of the app being launched, 10,000 users had downloaded it. Today, Instagram has over 30 million users. These users upload approximately five million photos a day, applying special filters and sharing the pictures on Instagram and on other social media sites.
“All filters are a map of input to output,” said Systrom, when CrazyEngineers.com interviewed him in 2011. “It takes a pixel in and pushes a pixel out. In that way you can think of filters as simply a function.”
In August 2012, less than two years after the initial launch, Systrom and Krieger sold Instagram to Facebook for $1 billion (£624.5 million) in cash and stocks. And the best part? They still get to work on developing their creation, because Facebook is keeping it independent.
9. Noah Glass – Twitter
In 2006, a group of people at a company named Odeo began collaborating on a new project. The group included Jack Dorsey, Florian Webber, Biz Stone, and software developer Noah Glass.
Before Odeo, Glass worked at Academy Award-winning special effects company, Industrial Light and Magic. And eventually, Glass founded small startup AudBlog, which allowed users to make audio blog posts from a remote location. AudBlog later evolved into Odeo.
At Odeo, Glass was looking at how people were using other social media sites in ways for which the sites weren’t necessarily designed. He noticed that people seemed to enjoy using non-synchronous, non-real time communication. This idea became one of the top 10 most-visited websites on the Internet: Twitter.
Glass came up with the name himself, although the original version was “twttr.” He was obsessed with the project and devoted hours and hours of time to it. He even wanted it to be a spin-off company. It was, Glass says, “a labor of love” that eventually became “a phenomenon” and “a massively beneficial tool” for over 500 million users.
8. Richard Jones – Audioscrobbler, Last.fm, IRCCloud
Richard Jones could have had no idea that his junior-year computer science project would eventually translate into a net worth of $24 million (£15m). Jones built Audioscrobbler on the principles of collaborative filtering. The software monitors what music users listen to the most and then suggests other albums and artists, based on the preferences of other users.
Jones eventually merged Audioscrobbler with Last.fm, and this move allowed for greater social media integration. Users can manually recommend music to friends and join fan groups for specific genres or artists. These groups have discussion forums, journals, and a member-generated group radio station, allowing over 30 million people to connect and talk about the hottest tunes floating around cyberspace.
7. Scott Jarkoff – DeviantArt
In 2000, there was virtually no such thing as a social network, but all that changed when an artist (Matthew Stephens), an entrepreneur (Angelo Sotira), and a programmer (Scott Jarkoff) got together. Together they created deviantArt, “the deepest, most vertically integrated network that ever existed.”
DeviantArt filled a cavernous niche in the online world, providing a place for artists to share their work online. Artists jumped at the opportunity, and they show no signs of backing off: today, the site has close to 15 million members.
Jarkoff, a native of L.A., was “the sole developer” in the early days of DeviantArt. He created the basic user interface and programmed the back-end system for the site. He currently lives in central Japan and works as a certified information systems security professional (CISSP) to protect networks from attack.
6. Steve Huffman – Reddit
Steve Huffman got his start copying programming codes from a book before he was ten years old, and he was programming his own stuff by the time he got to high school. With this kind of background, it isn’t too surprising that Huffman decided to study computer science at the University of Virginia.
At Virginia, Huffman met a gamer geek named Alexis Ohanian. The two became fast friends and, after graduating, started their own social news site called Reddit in 2005. With so many new things happening on the web all the time, Huffman and Ohanian wanted to create a single site where people could go to find out what was new, interesting and hot, without having to visit multiple website locations.
Reddit is, of course, a social news site; an online community where users get to see what other users think is important and relevant. The site is also interactive, with social features like friending, commenting, posting, messaging, and upvoting. You know the deal; maybe you just visited the site.
5. Daniel Ek – Spotify
Daniel Ek is a self-taught coder from Rågsved, Sweden, but he got his start in the business world when he was just 14 years old. Ek coded websites for local businesses and offered webhosting via the servers in his bedroom.
After a few other ventures – like starting online company Advertigo and selling it to Swedish company TradeDoubler – Ek teamed up with TradeDoubler founder Martin Lorentzon. Together, they founded Spotify and began developing a digital music-streaming service. Unlike other services of its kind, Spotify actually signed licensing agreements, and today they have four million subscribed users. Ek predicts that services like Spotify will “generate enough royalty payments to rival iTunes within two years.”
Spotify crossed over into the world of social media with Spotify Social, which allows users to interact, share music, and access their friends’ playlists through Facebook and Twitter. It can also be used from mobile devices. Nice work.
4. Jonathan Abrams – Friendster
Sometimes, failure is only the beginning. This was the case for Jonathan Abrams in 2002. He’d just been laid off from a software engineering job, and a startup he’d created (Hotlinks) was tanking. He had some time on his hands, so he funneled his energy into creating a new company.
Abrams wanted to change online interaction, to build community, and to use technology to improve people’s social lives. So, with the help of a few others, he created a website called Friendster.com, which went on to become one of the first social networks to gain over one million members.
As if that weren’t cool enough, Friendster basically “inspired an entire industry of online communication.” The site was especially huge in Asia, and it allowed users to date, check out events, share photos and videos, and explore new bands and hobbies.
Friendster was eventually surpassed by sites like Facebook and Twitter, and in 2011 it was re-launched as a social gaming portal. However, it is still regarded as the “granddaddy” of social networking sites.
3. Kevin Rose – Digg
Kevin Rose could be called a computer geek with a business streak. Unlike your stereotypical tech nerd, Rose was an Eagle Scout, but his infatuation with technology still started pretty young – at age eight.
Rose studied computers and animation in high school, and he majored in computer science in college but dropped out to follow a metaphorical gold rush: the ‘90s tech boom. He immersed himself in the world of startups and, in 2004, co-founded Digg.com with software engineer Owen Byrne, CEO Jay Adelson, and Ron Gorodetzky.
Much like Reddit.com, Digg is a social news site with up-vote and down-vote features (digging and burying). The site also allows users to connect through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, submit questions during Digg-sponsored interviews, and check out popular and trending content from around the net. And, while it may not be the force it once was, it’s still made a pretty big impact.
2. Jarkko Oikarinen – IRC
Jarkko Oikarinen found himself with a bit too much time on his hands in the summer of 1988. At the time, he was a Finnish graduate student working as a server administrator at the University of Oulu in Finland, but it didn’t take up all of his time. So, instead of twiddling his thumbs, Oikarinen got to work creating a communications program.
The result of all his extra hours was IRC – Internet Relay Chat. Although person-to-person chat had existed since the 1960s, it was mostly limited to research facilities and universities. Oikarinen didn’t re-invent the wheel, but he did fix a lot of the problems that had existed in previous chat programs. And his timing was perfect.
IRC was launched when the Internet was crossing international borders, and it became one of the first truly global social chatting networks. Remarkably, it still continues to be the most-used Internet chat system in the world.
1. Mark Zuckerberg – Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg is the epitome of the successful geek. Not only did he learn programming as a hobby in middle school, but he also studied computer science and psychology at Harvard. Yet, in the grand tradition of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, Zuckerberg didn’t graduate. In his sophomore year, Zuckerberg hacked into nine Harvard Houses’ online “facebooks” and created the software for Facemash.
Facemash basically let people choose whose image was “hotter” when looking at two pictures of Harvard students. And although the website was shut down within days, the idea it had sparked lived on. A mere two months later, in January 2004, Zuckerberg began writing code for thefacebook.com.
Today, Facebook has over one billion active users, who are all contributing to Zuckerberg’s goal to make “the world more open and connected.” According to the New York Times, Facebook has “come to define the social era of the Web.” Not only that, but it’s made Zuckerberg the world’s second-youngest self-made billionaire.