Who are the "technology elite", how do you find out what they're doing, and how might you get in touch with them? Today, one answer is Twitter, which provides a socially approved form of stalking. Many of the people who have started web-based companies are active participants, and it's very easy to follow their tweets. There are even founders of some older companies, such as Bill Gates (Microsoft), Mitch Kapor (Lotus), and Steve Case (AOL). Other participants include the web's inventor, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Linux kernel developer Linus Torvalds, and would-be-immortal inventor Ray Kurzweil.
As a keen Twitter user, I set out to compile a list of significant people -- the Technology Elite -- and I used the PeerIndex website to rank them by their "social capital", based on their online activity on Twitter, Facebook and so on. Until recently, this would have involved a ridiculous amount of work. But yesterday, PeerIndex launched a Groups feature that does the job by importing a Twitter list. You can set up and import your own lists, which could be people you want to track on Twitter (I did one recently for UK Tech PRs), competitors, or a group within your own company. One example given by PeerIndex compares the staff of two technology news sites, The Next Web and Mashable.
There are, of course, plenty of lists of tech people on Twitter, and they feature many well known names, including journalists, analysts and bloggers. What makes the Technology Elite list unusual is that it includes names that most people don't know. In fact, it's a good test of the depth of your knowledge of the area to scan the whole list and see how many you recognise.
The founders of Facebook (Mark Zuckerberg), Wikipedia (Jimmy Wales), Craigslist (Craig Newmark), eBay (Pierre Omidyar), and the Huffington Post (Arianna Huffington) must be reasonably well known. O'Reilly Media's Tim O'Reilly should be obvious. Most UK techies will also recognise Lastminute.com's Martha Lane Fox and Brent Hoberman.
But I expect fewer people will know the founders of Digg (Kevin Rose), TechCrunch (Mike Arrington), YouTube (Chad Hurley), Real Networks (Rob Glaser), PayPal (Max Levchin), Techmeme (Gabe Rivera), Flickr (Stewart Butterfield and Caterina Fake), Technorati (David Sifry), Weblogs Inc and Mahalo (Jason Calacanis), Popurls (Thomas Marban), Blekko (Rich Skrenta). SocialText (Ross Mayfield), Gowalla (Josh Williams), Pandora (Tim Westergren), Spotify (Daniel Ek) and Rocketboom (Andrew Baron).
The Tech Elite also includes a few significant figures from other areas, such as Bob Metcalfe, who invented Ethernet, and Dave Winer, who developed RSS. There are also venture capitalists such as Paul Graham (Y Combinator), Fred Wilson (Union Square Ventures) and John Doerr (Kleiner Perkins), plus some notable programmers, academics and authors.
There are several ways to access the list, including PeerIndex, where they are ranked by score, and Listorious, where they are ranked by number of followers. (The Listorious version is sadly out of date.) You can also read their tweets on Twitter without following them individually, or following me.
Here's the current Top 20 according to PeerIndex:
1 Om Malik 95 @om GigaOM, True Ventures
2 Tim O'Reilly 86 @timoreilly O'Reilly Media
3 Kevin Rose 85 @kevinrose Digg
3 Arianna Huffington 85 @ariannahuff The Huffington Post
5 Bill Gates 84 @billgates Microsoft
6 Evan Williams 83 @ev Blogger, Odeo, Twitter
6 Steve Case 83 @stevecase AOL
8 Fred Wilson 77 @fredwilson Union Square Ventures
9 Jason Calacanis 76 @jason Weblogs Inc, Mahalo
9 Michael Arrington 76 @arrington TechCrunch
11 Dave Winer 73 @davewiner UserLand, Weblogs.com, RSS
11 Biz Stone 73 @biz Twitter
13 Craig Newmark 72 @craignewmark Craigslist
14 Don Tapscott 70 @dtapscott Author of Macrowikinomics
15 Anil Dash 68 @anildash Director, Expert Labs
15 Clay Shirky 68 @cshirky Author of Cognitive Surplus
17 Matt Flannery 67 @mattflannery Kiva.org
18 John Battelle 66 @johnbattelle Wired, Boing Boing
19 Jason Fried 65 @jasonfried 37signals
20 Loic Le Meur 64 @loic Seesmic.com, LeWeb
At the moment, there are 78 names on the Technology Elite list, and further suggestions are welcome. However, I have left a few people off because their tweets weren't all that interesting.