The Influentials: Tech

Red BurnsPhoto: Roger Deckker

Red Burns
Chair of the Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts
Turns hard-grinding nerds into creative little technologists. Under Burns’s tutelege, two students dreamed up and built a social-networking service called Dodgeball—a cell-phone app that automates the process of hooking up with your friends and running into friends of friends during a night on the town. It was an ITP thesis project before being bought by Google last year for many millions. Just last month Cisco and MTV gave four ITP graduates a $25,000 grant to further develop their cell phone–based scavenger-hunt game. Not just Google, MTV and Cisco, but Disney, Microsoft, and Yahoo also recruit directly from the end-of-year ITP graduation show.

John Skipper
Executive vice-president of content, ESPN
The 24/7 information deliveryman. Skipper started small, ten years ago, by sending ESPN news alerts—game scores, mostly—to subscribers’ beepers. Now ESPN is showing the content companies how to make their wares ubiquitous. ESPN-branded cell phones provide breaking news, statistics, and the ability to control fantasy-league teams. The next frontier is the video-game console: Skipper just struck a fifteen-year deal worth an estimated $850 million with EA Sports to stream live sports news into PS3 and Xbox360 games like MVP 06 NCAA Baseball, and Fight Night Round 3. And in the future, games in the EA Sports juggernaut will feature ESPN announcers.

Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger
Co-founders, Antenna Design
Making navigation easier and more elegant too. The MTA was Antenna’s first client, and their first project was the nifty MetroCard dispenser. Those great little charts where the stops light up on the 4, 5, 6, and L trains? They did those too. They made your JetBlue check-in easy, too—the kiosk is Antenna. So is the new Bloomberg terminal that all Wall Streeters have on their desks. Nissan, Fujitsu, and IBM have all come calling, asking the design duo to reimagine their products and, by extension, our everyday lives.

Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham
Founders, Union Square Ventures
Turn creative little technologies into the next killer apps. Venture capitalists Fred Wilson and Brad Burnham were the first to fund, one of the cleverest start-ups in a decade. harnesses the brains of its users to do something that computers won’t ever be able to do: look at a Website and tell us what it’s about. The system of “tags” has been adopted by Flickr, Technorati, and millions of blogs, and the idea behind it (“folksonomy”: You can look it up on Wikipedia) is one of the major conceptual advances that is fueling the resurgence of the Web. Most of the VC action still occurs on the West Coast, but in New York, Union Square is where you go with your dreams. This February, the VC duo placed a big bet on Feedburner, a Web technology that helps bloggers, podcasters, and commercial publishers syndicate their content and direct it to subscribers. Clients include Gawker Media, USA Today, and Reuters.

The Boys of Rockstar Games
Brought free will to the world of video games. Before Rockstar, if you wanted to kill the princess instead of save her, you were out of luck. Forget, for a moment, your views on the amoral content of some of their games. With Grand Theft Auto III, Rockstar Games (founded by Jamie King, Terry Donovan, Gary Foreman, and brothers Sam and Dan Houser in 1998) pushed gaming past dull linear narratives and into the virtual world of choice. The formula has become so popular that dozens of companies have copied the open-ended sandbox environments in the past five years, and the franchise of seven games is now worth nearly $1 billion. This year, the company will release two new titles: Bully, a game that allows you to play a private-school student tired of getting harassed by his fellow trust-fund babies; and believe it or not, a Pong update, Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, which marks a new high-water mark in “realness.”

Barry Diller
CEO, IAC/InterActiveCorp
The only guy able to get a Frank Gehry design built in New York! Oh, yeah, the bargain-basement dot-com empire—40-plus online companies, including Ask, Expedia, and Evite—that Diller will command from his new headquarters is looking pretty prescient too, now that Web valuations are stratospheric again. Next: The Influentials in Fashion

The Influentials: Tech