40 People Who Changed the Internet

Discover the 40 individuals who transformed the internet. Learn about their contributions and how they shaped the digital landscape we know today.

The internet has woven itself into the fabric of our lives, replacing newspapers with digital content and letters with emails. We now turn to the web for entertainment, business, shopping, and bill payments, transforming friendships and rekindling old connections through social media. The internet is a pivotal part of our daily existence, offering life-changing possibilities.

An innovative idea is just the start; bringing it to life and making a significant impact is what truly counts. This list celebrates individuals whose contributions have significantly shaped the internet’s trajectory, altering our lives in profound ways. The world without the internet is unimaginable, highlighting its integral role in our routine.

Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn

Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn Internet
Pioneers of Internet Protocol.

The duo, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, are renowned for creating the TCP/IP communication protocols, the internet’s foundational language. Vint Cerf, often referred to as the Father of the Internet, notes that the web mirrors society, with its free services inevitably leading to unwanted byproducts like spam.

Tim Berners-Lee

Tim Berners Lee World Wide Web
Creator of the World Wide Web.

Tim Berners-Lee laid the groundwork for the World Wide Web, devising the first web client and server. His innovation in hypertext links forged paths between disparate online information, a concept he continues to evolve as the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).

Ray Tomlinson

Ray Tomlinson Email
Originator of Email.

As the innovator behind email, Ray Tomlinson revolutionized communication by enabling messages between computers across vast distances. His introduction of the “@” symbol in email addresses is a standard now used by billions worldwide.

Michael Hart

Michael Hart Project Gutenberg
Pioneer of Digital Reading.

Michael Hart is recognized for pioneering the eBook movement, dismantling the barriers of ignorance and illiteracy. He founded Project Gutenberg, the first electronic library, transforming access to literature with a collection of public domain and authorized works.

Gary Thuerk

Gary Thuerk Spam
Originator of Email Marketing.

Often overlooked, marketing via email has deep roots. Gary Thuerk made history by sending the first mass email over Arpanet, not realizing he was laying the foundation for what would become known as spam, an enduring digital marketing tactic.

Scott Fahlman

Scott Fahlman Emoticons
Creator of the First Emoticon.

Scott Fahlman introduced the first ASCII-based smiley emoticon. His innovation was aimed at clarifying the tone of online communications, differentiating humorous posts from serious ones. Today, emoticons are a universal language in digital communication.

Marc Andreessen

Marc Andreessen Netscape Navigator
Revolutionary of Web Browsing.

Marc Andreessen changed how we explore the internet by creating Mosaic, the first widely used web browser, later commercialized as Netscape Navigator. As a co-founder of Ning and an investor in various startups, his influence extends well beyond his browser innovation.

Jarkko Oikarinen

Jarkko Oikarinen Internet Relay Chat
Architect of Internet Relay Chat (IRC).

Jarkko Oikarinen developed IRC in Finland, offering the first real-time online chat experience. IRC gained prominence in 1991 during the Kuwait invasion when it became a crucial channel for disseminating timely information amidst widespread media shutdowns.

Robert Tappan Morris

Robert Tappan Morris Worm Virus
Innovator of the First Worm Virus.

Breaking away from traditional hacking, Robert Tappan Morris introduced the concept of the worm virus. His creation, the Morris Worm, was one of the first to spread across the internet, causing significant damage and loss of productivity in the late ’80s.

David Bohnett

David Bohnett Geocities
Founder of Geocities.

David Bohnett co-founded GeoCities in 1994, fostering the largest online community of its time. He was a trailblazer in offering free web pages, democratizing web presence before the service’s closure in 2009.

Ward Cunningham

Ward Cunningham Wiki
Innovator of the First Wiki.

Renowned American programmer Ward Cunningham introduced the world to the concept of the wiki, a revolutionary platform allowing collaborative content creation and editing online. He named it ‘wiki’ after the Hawaiian word for “quick,” reflecting the system’s speed and ease of use.

Sabeer Bhatia

Sabeer Bhatia Hotmail
Pioneer of Hotmail.

Sabeer Bhatia made headlines with the founding of Hotmail, a service notable for incorporating HTML in its name, symbolizing the language underpinning web pages. His journey took a monumental turn when he sold Hotmail to Microsoft for $400 million, earning recognition and awards for his entrepreneurial prowess and influencing the future of free global communication.

Matt Drudge

Matt Drudge The Drudge Report
Creator of The Drudge Report.

Matt Drudge is the mind behind The Drudge Report, a news aggregation site that skyrocketed to fame for breaking the Monica Lewinsky scandal. His platform has since become a significant and controversial presence in the news and media landscape.

Larry Page and Sergey Brin

Larry Page and Sergey Brin Google
The Visionaries Behind Google.

Internet pioneers Larry Page and Sergey Brin transformed the digital landscape with Google, redefining how we search and interact with information online. Starting from a university project to becoming a global tech giant, their story is one of innovation, growth, and prioritizing engineering over business to continuously shape the future of the internet.

Bill Gates

Bill Gates Microsoft
Architect of Microsoft.

Bill Gates founded the software behemoth Microsoft, a blend of ‘microcomputer software.’ His vision and development of a user-friendly Graphical User Interface, Windows, played a pivotal role in realizing his mission to place a computer on every desk and in every home in developed nations, significantly shaping the technology landscape.

Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs Apple
Mastermind Behind Apple.

Steve Jobs was not just the founder of Apple but a visionary who revolutionized the personal computer, entertainment, and technology industries. His commitment to innovation, combined with a distinct aesthetic for simple and clean design, has left an indelible mark on how we interact with technology in our work, play, and communication.

David Filo and Jerry Yang

David Filo and Jerry Yang Yahoo
Founders of Yahoo.

David Filo and Jerry Yang turned a hobby into the global brand Yahoo!, fundamentally changing how people interact, access information, and shop online. Despite the acronym for “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle,” they chose the name for its definition as “rude, unsophisticated, uncouth,” reflecting their playful spirit.

Brad Fitzpatrick

Brad Fitzpatrick LiveJournal
Creator of LiveJournal.

Brad Fitzpatrick launched LiveJournal, a pioneering blogging platform, contributing significantly to online communities and personal blogging. Known online as bradfitz, he has authored several free software projects like memcached, enhancing the functionality of platforms like LiveJournal, Facebook, and YouTube. LiveJournal stands today as a vibrant community where users share life stories through diaries and blogs, connecting through a network of friends.

Shawn Fanning

Shawn Fanning Napster
Developer of Napster.

Shawn Fanning created Napster, a groundbreaking peer-to-peer file-sharing service that transformed the music industry. At its peak, Napster boasted over 25 million users and, despite legal challenges leading to its shutdown, it paved the way for the modern digital music era before being rebranded by Roxio.

Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel Paypal
Co-founder of Paypal.

Peter Thiel, along with other visionaries, founded PayPal, revolutionizing online transactions by enabling instant money transfers. Thiel’s foresight and leadership propelled PayPal’s success, culminating in its acquisition by eBay for $1.5 billion, showcasing his significant impact on e-commerce and financial technology.

Pierre Morad Omidyar

Pierre Morad Omidyar Ebay
Innovator of Ebay.

Pierre Omidyar created eBay, an online marketplace that revolutionized how people buy and sell, tapping into the basic human insight that virtually anything can be valuable to someone. His platform’s unique approach to establishing trust among anonymous users has been instrumental in its growth into a global commerce leader.

Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales Wikipedia
Founder of Wikipedia.

Jimmy Wales established Wikipedia, the world’s largest encyclopedia, known for its readily editable content. Launched in 2001, Wikipedia has become the most utilized general reference work on the internet, embodying the spirit of freely accessible knowledge for all.

Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake

Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake Flickr
Creators of Flickr.

For many, sharing photos online is a routine part of daily life, thanks largely to Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake. They developed Flickr, which evolved from an online game into a revolutionary photo-sharing platform, transforming personal albums into continuous photo streams. Acquired by Yahoo in 2005, Flickr exemplifies the innovative spirit of Web 2.0.

Jonathan Abrams

Jonathan Abrams Friendster
Founder of Friendster.

Jonathan Abrams, along with Cris Emmanuel, launched Friendster, the original mainstream social network that redefined online connections. Members could link up with friends, share interests like favorite movies and books, and expand their social circles outward, laying the foundation for the social media era.

Niklas Zennstrom

Niklas Zennstrom Skype
Co-founder of Skype.

Niklas Zennstrom introduced Skype, setting a new standard for global communication. This groundbreaking software offered high-quality calls via computers and expanded to various platforms, rapidly becoming the fastest growing communication trend in history.

Bram Cohen

Bram Cohen Bit Torrent
Developer of BitTorrent.

Bram Cohen took file sharing to the next level with BitTorrent. This protocol revolutionized the concept by encouraging simultaneous uploading and downloading, speeding up the process dramatically. Its innovative approach garnered a massive user base, changing how we share and receive large files online.

Reid Hoffman

Creator of LinkedIn.

Reid Hoffman, with his experience from PayPal, established LinkedIn, the foremost professional networking platform. It enables users to foster business connections, seek employment, and share their professional experiences, reshaping how professionals connect and do business worldwide.

Matt Mullenweg

Matt Mullenweg WordPress
Founder of WordPress.

Matt Mullenweg developed WordPress, the leading open-source blogging platform that champions freedom of expression. Powering some of the internet’s most influential sites, WordPress is a testament to the impact of open, accessible publishing tools in shaping online discourse.

Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim

Chad Hurley Steve Chen and Jawed Karim Youtube
Pioneers of Youtube.

Former PayPal employees Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim founded YouTube, transforming video sharing into a daily activity for millions. With Hurley’s design, Chen and Karim’s technical expertise, and a collective vision, they created a platform that streams millions of videos daily. Google’s acquisition of YouTube for $1.65 billion in stock is a testament to its groundbreaking impact.

Craig Newmark

Craig Newmark Craigslist
Creator of Craigslist.

Craig Newmark transformed the landscape of classified ads with Craigslist, a platform that became a staple for finding anything from housing to romance. Starting as a simple email list, Craigslist’s free-for-all approach disrupted traditional newspaper classifieds, evolving into a vast online database.

Julian Assange

Julian Assange WikiLeaks
Founder of WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange launched WikiLeaks, a platform committed to publishing classified materials globally. With advanced software to protect the anonymity of sources, WikiLeaks has positioned itself as a formidable platform for whistleblowers, advocating for transparency and becoming a major player in global information dissemination.

Dick Costolo

Dick Costolo FeedBurner
Innovator behind FeedBurner.

Dick Costolo, the founder of FeedBurner, revolutionized content consumption by creating a tool that aggregates updates from preferred sites via RSS feeds. Acquired by Google, FeedBurner simplified staying informed, laying the groundwork for modern content delivery systems and Costolo’s subsequent role as Twitter’s COO.

Mark Zuckerberg

Mark Zuckerberg Facebook
Founder of Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, a platform that redefined social networking by allowing users to share updates, photos, and connect with friends globally. With its widespread adoption, Facebook has influenced how people interact online, boasting millions of users and aiming to connect the entire world.

Jack Dorsey

Jack Dorsey Twitter
Creator of Twitter.

Jack Dorsey envisioned Twitter (now known as X) as a way to keep friends and family updated with short, succinct messages. It quickly became a global communication tool, allowing users to share and discover brief updates from friends, celebrities, and brands, reflecting the rapid pace of modern communication.

Christopher Poole

Christopher Poole 4chan
Founder of 4chan.

Christopher Poole, known as “Moot,” started 4chan, a message board that celebrates anonymity and fosters a diverse range of discussions. Its lack of a registration system encourages free expression and has made it a unique and influential corner of the internet culture.

Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos Amazon
Founder of Amazon.

Jeff Bezos launched Amazon, evolving from a startup in a garage to the world’s largest online retailer. Starting as an online bookstore named Cadabra Inc, Amazon expanded rapidly under Bezos’s vision, introducing innovations like the Kindle that have changed the way we shop and read, making it a benchmark for the e-commerce industry.