Top 10 Innovators of the Decade

The last decade has been marked by an incredible surge in technology. The innovators responsible for this tech revolution are in some cases larger-than-life figures that history will always remember. In other cases, they are not unlike people you interact with day-to-day. In this article, we will profile the top 10 innovators of the decade and the contributions they made.

1) Shawn Fanning

Shawn Fanning was the spark that lit the flame, the prime mover behind the unstoppable wave of online music downloads. As is so often the case with great innovations, necessity was the mother of Fanning's invention, Napster. He was motivated to create the first-ever online music sharing service by his college roommate at Northeastern University, who was having trouble finding the MP3 files he sought. The young Fanning had no programming experience up to that point, so he bought some books on C++ and taught himself in the course of a few weeks. He then proceeded to write the first version of Napster from his Northeastern dorm room, and before long, the whole world knew his name. While Napster eventually went under due to legal trouble, it also opened the floodgates of online music downloads that has never been closed since.

2) Niklas Zennstrom

On the heel's of Napster's demise, it was Swedish entrepreneur Niklas Zennstrom who revitalized the online file sharing community with Kazaa. Kazaa ran on Zennstrom's FastTrack peer-to-peer protocol, which improved upon Napster's file sharing model. With Napster, every user connected to a central server that facilitated the music transfers between them. While this was effective, it was also what made them so easy for the courts to shut down. FastTrack eliminated this hassle (for a few years) by turning its users into servers. In other words, songs were sent directly from one user's computer to another, with no server holding it all together. At the height of its popularity, Kazaa had some 50 million users swapping music at any given time. Eventually, Zennstrom and co-innovator Janus Friis exited their stake in Kazaa and founded Skype, a company that built the same P2P technology into an Internet phone calling service. Skype was acquired by eBay last year for $2.4 billion, and the pair has since gone on to found yet another company -- Joost, an Internet television service. In the span of a few years, Zennstrom has gone for a no-name to an Internet technology magnate.

3) Tony Fadell

Casual iPod users probably do not realize that Apple itself did not invent the iPod, but it's true! In fact, the true innovator was Tony Fadell, an independent innovator. Fadell's original idea was to build an MP3 player and complement it with a music sales service, which is essentially what the iPod and iTunes Music Store is today. However, to make that vision a reality, Apple hired Fadell in early 2001 and put a team of 30 designers, programmers, and engineers behind him. The result was the iPod and the many later variations (iPod Nano, iPod Video, iPod Shuffle, etc.) that have come to dominate the portable music space.

4) Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was the mastermind behind Apple's renaissance from 2000 up until the present. His brilliant business decisions and keen design behind the iMac, iPod, and iPhone have revitalized Apple from a dying company in the late 90's to a technology powerhouse today, a company that utterly dominates the portable music space and is slowly but surely taking more of the desktop market from Microsoft. The products Jobs introduced or supervised have become fixtures in business, Hollywood, pop culture, schools and universities worldwide.

5) Tom Anderson

No list of the top innovators in the last decade would be complete without Tom Anderson, the creator of the wildly popular social network In a few short years, MySpace has become an unstoppable force in social networking, with over 100 million registered users. Anderson, a Cachelor of Arts in Rhetoric and English from Berkeley, set up the first pages of MySpace in 2003 with a few programmer friends. The site simply ballooned from there into the most popular social network online in terms of users, and the most popular website for teenagers to boot. MySpace consistently ranks among the top sites in Alexa traffic rankings.

6) Dean Kamen

Few inventions symbolize the 2000's more than the Segway, which is Dean Kamen's creation. A holder of over 440 US patents, Kamen developed the Segway Transportation System in 2001. The marvel of the Segway is its ability to balance itself upon two wheels with an electric motor, and it has caught on with eco-minded city commuters everywhere. Dean himself has always been something of a science guru. The Smithsonian Magazine, for instance, labeled him "the Pied Piper of Technology", while the New York Times chimed in by donning him "a New Kind of Hero for American Youth." In the years since, the Segway has become a fixture in movies, office buildings, and college campuses.

7) Mark Zuckerberg

In the years since MySpace's creation, only one social network has continued to pose a serious challenge to its dominance: Facebook, the brainchild of Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook has succeeded with a growing number of users who are fed up with MySpace's slow servers, clogged up profiles, and endless spam and pornography bots vying for their attention by offering a cleaner service that only admitted verified college students. In doing so, Zuckerberg has made Facebook a cornerstone of the college life, and has since opened the site to non-college students. Today, it is virtually guaranteed that any 16-25 year old person you meet has a Facebook profile and uses it regularly as a vital part of their lives.

8) AbioMed

AbioMed is the company behind the first completely self-contained artificial heart. It was transplanted into Robert Tools on July 2, 2001 successfully, and he has survived without complication ever since. Another AbioCor transplant patient was Tom Christerson, who survived for 17 months after his surgery. On September 6, 2006, the AbioCor heart became the first implantable artificial heart to earn the approval of 'Humanitarian Use Device' rules, a significant step toward artificial hearts becoming more widely used in the saving of lives.

9) Helen Greiner

It was Helen Greiner who harnessed the wonderful technology of modern times to make housekeeping easier with her invention of the ROOMBA. The ROOMBA is the world's first-ever robotic vaccum cleaner, a 13.4 inch circiular decide that uses contact-sensing bumpers to safely navigate around the room and suck up dirt and dust all by itself. Best of all, the ROOMBA can sense when its internal nickel-metal hydride batteries are running low and bring itself to its recharging station all on its own.

Greiner sells ROOMBA through her company, iRobot, and was named the Ernst and Young New England Entrepreneur of the Year in 2003.

10) Patrick Michael Kolla

Patrick Kolla is the sole creator and developer of Spybot Search & Destroy, a free spyware removal tool that became one of the most widely downloaded tools of its kind when spyware took the web by storm in 2002. Tirelessly updated and made available free of charge, Spybot can be counted upon to remove even the most insidious of web pests with a minimum of fuss. Kolla continues running the company out of a room in his parents' home, subsisting entirely off of donations that pour in from grateful users around the globe. Without Kolla's hard work and persistence on keeping Spybot effective, the average web user might be far less safe than he is today!

We hope you enjoyed this article on the Top 10 Innovators of the Decade. If so, please share it with your friends and sign up for our newsletter for weekly emails.
Top 10 Innovators of the Decade, Top Innovators, Top Inventors