Jon Lech Johansen is a self-taught software engineer who quit high school after one year to work on a personal project: DeCSS. DeCSS is a program used to decode the content-scrambling system on DVDs which was designed to enforce licensing but inadvertently prevented DVDs from being played on open-source operating systems. DeCSS was released late in 1999, and a few months later Jon was arrested and prosecuted by the Norwegian Crime Unit, the Motion Picture Association of America and the US DVD Copy Control Association. He was 17 and faced two years in prison on hacking charges.
Three years later and three days before Christmas 2003, Jon was acquitted for the second time after releasing a number of other controversial programs. Another three years later and Jon, at 24, has been placed 19th in PC World’s article: The 50 Most Important People on the Web.
This is an impressive and overwhelming article listing everyone from venture capitalists and investors to bloggers, gamers and even a MySpace ‘personality’. Four of the top five on this list are under 35 and the youngest on this list – Matt Mullenweg – is only 68 days older than me. He created WordPress – the blogging format used by millions (including me) – and the anti-spam system ‘Akismet’ used by even more. His company Automattic has five employees, one of which is Toni Schneider… an ex senior Yahoo! executive.
What does this list teach us and what can we learn from it? That the Internet is the only way forward for entrepreneurs aiming for success; or that if you want success on the Internet you have to be young, intelligent and gifted? Not in the slightest. It’s telling us, in no uncertain terms, that the Great American Dream is over – the Great Dream is now available to every single person, the world over.
There is success and fame to be found in ‘real-life’ offline businesses, by entrepreneurs that aren’t even born yet; there are riches to be made for countless young technophiles using technologies still to be invented and there will be a whole new wave of Internet opportunities when Web 2.1 (3.0?) is unveiled sometime in the future. All this list illustrates is that if you’ve got an idea, it’s now easier than ever to realise your dream.