As the web prepares to celebrate its 25th birthday, Gregory Walton takes a look back at the superstars fired into orbit by the revolutionary technology
Arguably the first female internet star, Martha Lane Fox founded travel site lastminute.com with Brent Hoberman at the height of the dotcom boom in 1998. After listing the firm in 2000, it reached a peak valuation of £800 million. Ms Fox, an Oxford graduate, eventually sold the business for £577 million in 2005, netting her a personal fortune of £13 million. Nearly killed in a car crash in 2004, Ms Fox temporarily took a step back from public life. By 2007 however, she was ready for a return to public duties, becoming a non-executive director at M&S. In 2010 she was appointed a Digital Champion by David Cameron, charged with overhauling Government websites. She has repeatedly called on Britain's blue-chip firms to appoint digital executives to their boards to remain globally competitive. She also described the government as "woefully quiet on the subject of liberty versus security" in the wake of its response to the revelations of whistleblower and former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden. Ms Fox has said that the web's 25th birthday is a "good moment to reflect" on the future and challenges of the internet.
Among the best known of the Silicon Valley stars, Mark Zuckerberg attained notoriety after the release of The Social Network in 2010 which documents the turbulent birth of social media giant Facebook. Depicted in the film as an egotistical loner, Mr Zuckerberg has nonetheless amassed a personal fortune of 28.5 billion dollars (£17 billion), partly from Facebook's disastrous public listing in 2012. The Harvard dropout recently agreed a 19billion dollar (£11 billion) deal to add web messenger WhatsApp to Facebook's growing portfolio of online businesses. Mr Zuckerberg has transformed his huge personal wealth into political clout, pouring cash into his lobbying group, FWD.us. The outfit campaigns for comprehensive immigration reform and improved education for the digital age.
Sergey Brin, a migrant from the Soviet Union, co-founded search giant Google with fellow Stanford University PhD dropout, Larry Page in 1996. The pair started out in a garage in Menlo Park, California. Since then they have grown Google into the world's pre-eminent search engine and the most visited website on the internet. Last year alone the site attracted 1.2 billion users who conducted two trillion searches. Google has left behind its humble origins as a site to simply search and now acts as the web's doorman, concierge and butler. Through its acquisitions of YouTube, among others, Google has positioned itself as the most significant online player bar none. Its nearest competitor, Microsoft Bing, attracts just a fraction of the online traffic of Brin and Page's brainchild. Originally to be called BackRub, the pair eventually settled on Google, a play on the word 'googol' – a mathematical term for a 1 with 100 zeros.
Founder and CEO of the ubiquitous online shopping site, Amazon, Jeff Bezos has put his 32 billion dollar (£19 billion) fortune to use buying the Washington Post and developing drone package deliveries in recent months. Before founding Amazon.com in 1994, Mr Bezos graduated from Princeton University with a degree in computer science before going on to develop a high-tech hedge fund for DE Shaw & Co. The fund became one of the most sophisticated hedge funds to trade on Wall Street. Since forming Amazon, Mr Bezos has transformed the face of retail. Despite huge popularity, critics have condemned him for single-handedly destroying bricks-and-mortar bookshops. At the same time, NGOs have been critical of Amazon's unique tax arrangements and worker relations. But shoppers continue to vote with their feet – sales have grown by 21 per cent in the past year.
The founder of dating site Plenty of Fish (PoF) is credited with the birth of one million babies. Markus Frind was frustrated with the cost of conventional dating websites and so resolved to create an alternative. The rest, as they say, is history. Born in a small rural town in British Columbia, Canada, Mr Frind moved to the bright lights of Vancouver in the late 1990s to learn about computers before founding the hugely successful dating site in 2003 as a hobby. Unlike most dating sites which at that time charged steep membership fees, Mr Frind's simple one-man operation kept overheads low meaning he could live comfortably from the ad revenue alone. In one memorable episode, he was pictured holding a one million dollar (£600,000) cheque from Google for just two months of advertising. And despite a spate of high profile security lapses, PoF remains enormously popular having successfully made the jump to mobile devices where 70 per cent of its traffic now originates.
One of the few internet pioneers to strike gold twice, Sean Parker co-founded music sharing site Napster before helping to develop a niche university messaging site into the dominant social media force that is Facebook. Aged just 19, Mr Parker revolutionised the way that listeners consumed music as CDs began to wane and MP3 became king. Born to a TV executive and a government scientist, Mr Parker developed an interest in computers and hacking at the expense of his formal education. Eventually his activities attracted the attention of the CIA and FBI and ultimately a spell of community service. But his illicit exploits also brought him into contact with Shawn Fanning with whom he launched music exchange site Napster in 1999. His time at Napster and the media attention he attracted helped Mr Parker to meet a veritable Who's Who of the internet elite. Among a slew of other ventures, he was appointed a president at Facebook by his friend, Mark Zuckerberg. Since that appointment, Mr Parker has become a Silicon Valley mainstay, involved with some of the most important online innovations of recent years while amassing a 2.1billion dollar (£1.2 billion) fortune.
Twitter inventor Jack Dorsey credits his unique contribution to social media to a project intended to streamline the dispatch of taxi cabs in New York City. Aged just 15, he came up with a script so effective and efficient at dispatching cabs that it is still in use by some firms today. Like a number of his fellow modern web pioneers, Mr Dorsey dropped out of university to pursue his own projects. He moved to Oakland, California, in 2000 and started a company that offered his taxi technology to the world. His idea evolved into the now ubiquitous micro-blogging site, Twitter. On March 21 2006 Dorsey sent the world's first tweet, announcing "just setting up my twttr". Since then there have been over 300 billion tweets sent. The 2008 US presidential campaign saw the site cement its position as a place for serious conversations, not just a repository for banal personal details. Mr Dorsey floated the firm on the stock market as its chairman in November 2013. It was initially valued at 18 billion dollars (£11 billion).
Iisalo is the little-known designer behind the blockbuster mobile game, Angry Birds. The app has been downloaded over one billion times since it launched – making it the most popular computer game ever. Even David Cameron is said to be a fan. Though the Finnish designer is unlikely to join Forbes' list of billionaires any time soon, the huge popularity of his creation has propelled Iisalo into the media spotlight. After studying computer science in Helsinki, Iisalo worked his way up through the Finnish games industry with stints as an artist, programmer and graphic designer to become the force behind one of Finland's most successful exports. He credits his unique approach to game design for the popularity of Angry Birds. He said: "I design games by drawing pictures. I have to see how the game looks in order to understand it. I try to visualise the game play for myself, and drawing it helps."
Greek-born Arianna Huffington has transformed the way a generation get their news. From humble beginnings as a niche source of news for political junkies, a 315 million dollar (£188 million) sale to AOL in 2011 has given Ms Huffington's online news operation unprecedented clout. A string of recent political exclusives have added to HuffPo's reputation as a serious source of news and comment, becoming the first online news outfit to win a Pulitzer Prize in 2012. After studying at Cambridge and a spell as a BBC broadcaster, Ms Huffington moved to New York City and set about conquering the US political and media elite in 1980. Founding the Huffington Post in 2005, Ms Huffington has since grown the franchise to include a number of international editions. She was ranked as the 12th most influential woman in the media by Forbes in 2009. The Huffington Post receives 105 million unique visitors every month, making it the most popular political website on the net.
Founder of online auction site eBay, Pierre Omidyar has changed the face of retail forever. Bringing the specialist world of auctions within the reach of a mass market through an ingeniously simple online platform, eBay has stimulated huge amounts of trade and driven down prices by cutting out the middleman. Born in France to Iranian parents, Mr Omidyar began coding the first incarnation of the dominant auction site aged just 28. Originally dubbed Auction Web, Mr Omidyar was later forced to rename his brainchild eBay after his preferred name, Echo Bay, was already taken. Though he gave up the day-to-day running of the company in 1998, Mr Omidyar remains the firm's chairman. Since stepping down from the helm, he has embarked on a number of other ventures including Civil Beat, an online news service he founded in 2010. Mr Omidyar is also a keen philanthropist having donated over 115 million dollars (£69 million) to anti-slavery charity, Humanity United.