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Error 404: A Look At Digital Decay

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million dollar homepage link rot

In 2005, one of the most intriguing advertising stunts of the internet age was hatched.

Alex Tew launched the The Million Dollar Homepage, where anyone could “own a piece of internet history” by purchasing pixels-plots (minimum of 10×10) on a massive digital canvas. At the price of just one dollar per pixel, everyone from individual internet users to well-known companies like Yahoo! raced to claim a space on the giant digital canvas.

Million dollar homepage

Today, The Million Dollar Homepage lives on as a perfect record of that wacky time in internet history – or so it seems. However, the reality is that many of the hyperlinks on the canvas are now redirects that send incoming users to other sites, while over 20% of them are simply dead.

Here are the links that still work on the Million Dollar Homepage today:

million dollar homepage link rot

The revealing graphic above, via John Bowers, raises the question – how do hyperlinks disappear, and what implications does this “digital decay” have?

Digital Decay

The internet is stitched together by an incalculable number of hyperlinks, but much like cells in an organism, the sources and destinations have a finite lifespan. Essentially, links can and do die.

link rot spread

Most “link rot” is the result of website restructuring, or entities going out of business and pulling their website offline.

A high-impact example of this is when Yahoo! pulled the plug on GeoCities, one of the first popular web hosting services. In one fell swoop, roughly 7 million websites (containing a plethora of animated gifs, auto-playing midi files, and traffic counters) went dark forever.

Links can also die because of more deliberate reasons, as well. In 2015, the editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, Ben Smith, came under fire for deleting thousands of posts from the site (including content that was critical of Buzzfeed advertisers). Journalism has traditionally acted as a public record, so this type of “decay” has serious implications on the credibility of media brands.

Who Cares?

This idea of a public record is at the heart of why digital decay is an issue worth addressing. Once millions of links simply burn out, what will people in the future know about society in the early-ish days of the internet? What record will remain of people’s thoughts and feelings in that era?

I worry that the twenty-first century will become an informational black hole.

– Vint Cerf, Internet pioneer

Perhaps more urgent are public records that live in the digital realm. Supreme Court decisions and academia lean heavily on citations to build their arguments. What happens when those citations simply vanish? A Harvard study found that 49% of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court decisions are now broken.

Even that ubiquitous resource, Wikipedia, has serious issues caused by digital decay. Over 130,000 entries link to dead pages – a troubling development, as linked citations are what lend entries their credibility.

Backing Up The Internet

A handful of people are taking steps to archive the internet.

The most well-known solution is Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which has archived hundreds of billions webpages over the past 20 years. Even the The Library of Congress – which is well known for archiving digital information such as tweets – contracts Internet Archive to do its web crawling.

The academia-focused Perma is another example of a company looking to create permanent records of the web sources (particularly citations).

Many of the weird and wonderful forums and hand-coded homepages of early internet lore may be gone, but we’re finally taking steps to combat digital decay. As awareness grows, avoiding an “informational black hole” may be possible.

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The World’s Top 50 Influencers Across Social Media Platforms

Which influencers have the most total social media followers? We tally up follower counts across all major platforms, from Twitter to TikTok.

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Most-followed social media influencers across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, Twitch

Visualizing the World’s Top 50 Influencers

In the modern digital world, social media reach is power.

The people with the most followers on Twitter, for example, have a massive platform to spread their messages, while those with large, engaged followings on Instagram are an advertiser’s dream sponsor partner.

Social media can also be an equalizer of power. It’s true that many celebrities boast large followings across platforms, but social media has also enabled previously unknown personalities to turn YouTube or TikTok fame into veritable star power and influence.

Who has the biggest reach across the entire social media universe? Instead of looking at who has the most followers on Instagram, Twitter, or other networks, we ranked the most-followed personalities across all major platforms combined.

Who Has the Most Overall Followers on Social Media?

We parsed through hundreds of the most-followed accounts on multiple platforms to narrow down the top influencers across social media as of April 2021.

Sources include trackers of the most followers on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok, verified directly on site and with social media tracker Socialblade.

The results? A top 50 list of social media influencers consisting of athletes, musicians, politicians, and other personalities.

RankNameCategoryTotal FollowersBiggest Platform
#1Cristiano RonaldoSports517MInstagram
#2Justin BieberMusic455MInstagram
#3Ariana GrandeMusic429MInstagram
#4Selena GomezMusic425MInstagram
#5Taylor SwiftMusic361MInstagram
#6Dwayne JohnsonFilm & TV342MInstagram
#7Katy PerryMusic338MInstagram
#8Kylie JennerOther333MInstagram
#9RihannaMusic332MTwitter
#10Kim KardashianOther319MInstagram
#11Lionel MessiSports298MInstagram
#12NeymarSports283MInstagram
#13ShakiraMusic282MFacebook
#14Jennifer LopezMusic277MInstagram
#15BeyoncéMusic267MInstagram
#16Ellen DeGeneresFilm & TV260MInstagram
#17Miley CyrusMusic235MInstagram
#18Nicki MinajMusic232MInstagram
#19Barack ObamaPolitics221MTwitter
#20Will SmithFilm & TV217MFacebook
#21Kendall JennerOther212MInstagram
#22Demi LovatoMusic211MInstagram
#23Lady GagaMusic210MTwitter
#24Kevin HartFilm & TV201MInstagram
#25Virat KohliSports195MInstagram
#26EminemMusic194MFacebook
#27DrakeMusic192MInstagram
#28Khloé KardashianOther191MInstagram
#29Bruno MarsMusic191MFacebook
#30Chris BrownMusic187MInstagram
#31Vin DieselFilm & TV177MFacebook
#32Narendra ModiPolitics175MTwitter
#33Justin TimberlakeMusic175MTwitter
#34Billie EilishMusic171MInstagram
#35Charli D'AmelioOther169MTikTok
#36Kourtney KardashianOther165MInstagram
#37Cardi BMusic160MInstagram
#38LeBron JamesSports157MInstagram
#39AdeleMusic156MFacebook
#40Priyanka ChopraFilm & TV144MInstagram
#41Germán GarmendiaGaming143MYoutube
#42Wiz KhalifaMusic142MFacebook
#43Felix "PewDiePie" KjellbergGaming141MYoutube
#44Akshay KumarFilm & TV140MInstagram
#45Snoop DoggMusic138MInstagram
#46Deepika PadukoneFilm & TV138MInstagram
#47Britney SpearsMusic137MTwitter
#48Shawn MendesMusic136MInstagram
#49Whindersson Nunes BatistaOther135MInstagram
#50Salman KhanFilm & TV134MFacebook

Unsurprisingly, celebrities reign supreme on social media. As of April 2021, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was the most-followed person on social media with more than 500 million total followers.

But there are other illuminating highlights, such as the global reach of music. With large and diverse fanbases, artists account for half of the top 50 largest social media followings.

Also notable is the power of Instagram, which was the biggest platform for 67% of the top 50 social media influencers. This includes hard-to-categorize celebrities like the Kardashians and Jenners, which turned reality TV and social media fame into business and media empires.

Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)

The Generational Power Index

The Most Followers on Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube

However, it’s not only celebrities that dominate social media.

Personalities that started on one social media platform and developed massive followings include TikTok’s most-followed star Charli D’Amelio and YouTubers Germán Garmendia, Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, and Whindersson Nunes Batista.

Politicians were also prominent influencers. Former U.S. President Barack Obama has the most followers on Twitter, and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi has more than 175 million followers across social media.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump would have also made the list with more than 140 million followers across social media before being banned from multiple platforms on January 8, 2021.

A Generational Look at Social Media Influence

While older generations have had to adapt to social media platforms, younger generations have grown up alongside them. As a measure of cultural importance, this gives Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z a rare leg-up on older generations.

Millennials, in particular, hold the lion’s share of spots in this top 50 list:

Generation# of Influencers in GenerationTop Influencer in Generation
Gen Z4Kylie Jenner
Millennial33Cristiano Ronaldo
Gen X10Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson
Baby Boomer3Ellen DeGeneres

The average age of the top 50 influencers was just over 37.

In our Generational Power Index (GPI), which measures the share of power generations hold in various categories, digital platforms were a key area where Millennials derived their power and influence. Overall, Baby Boomers—and to a lesser extent, Gen X—still run the show in most areas of society today.

Social Media Influence, Going Forward

As most fans and advertisers know, not all social media accounts and followings are homogenous.

Many influencers with relatively small followings have more consistent engagement, and are often able to demand high advertising fees as a result.

Conversely, most social media platforms are reckoning with a severe glut of fake accounts or bots that inflate follower counts, impacting everything from celebrities and politicians to personalities and businesses.

Regardless, social media has become a mainstay platform (or soapbox) for today’s cultural influencers. Billions of people turn to social media for news, engagement, recommendations, and entertainment, and new platforms are always on the rise.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of the data used for this story incorrectly counted Facebook likes instead of followers for some personalities. The content has since been corrected and updated.”

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Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Cultural Power?

Visual Capitalist’s first-ever Generational Power Index looks at which U.S. generation holds the most cultural influence in American society.

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cultural power GPI

Which U.S. Generation Wields the Most Cultural Power?

This year, our team put together Visual Capitalist’s inaugural Generational Power Index (GPI), which looks at power dynamics across generations in America.

We considered three categories in our quest to quantify power: economics, political, and cultural. And while it turns out Baby Boomers dominate when it comes to economics and political factors—cultural influence is a different story.

Here’s a look at which U.S. generation holds the most cultural power, and how this power dynamic is expected to shift in the coming years.

Generations and Power, Defined

Before we get started, it’s important to clarify which generations we’ve included in our research, along with their age and birth year ranges.

GenerationAge range (years)Birth year range
The Silent Generation76 and over1928-1945
Baby Boomers57-751946-1964
Gen X41-561965-1980
Millennials25-401981-1996
Gen Z9-241997-2012
Gen Alpha8 and below2013-present

Using these age groups as a framework, we then calculated the Cultural Power category using these distinct equally-weighted variables:

cultural power category breakdown

With this methodology in mind, here’s how the Cultural Power category shakes out, using insights from the GPI.

Share of Cultural Power by Generation

Overall, we found that Gen X captures the largest share of cultural power, at 36%.

GenerationCultural Power Share
The Silent Generation8.8%
Baby Boomers25.1%
Gen X36.0%
Millennials23.9%
Gen Z6.1%
Gen Alpha0.00%
Total99.9%

*Note: figures may not add up to 100% due to rounding.

Gen X is particularly dominant in the film and TV industry, along with news media. For instance, over half of America’s largest news corporations have a Gen Xer as their CEO, and roughly 50% of Oscar winners in 2020 were members of Gen X.

Baby Boomers come in second place, capturing a 25% share of cultural power. They show particular dominance in traditional entertainment like books and art. For example, 42% of the authors on the NYT’s best-selling books list were Baby Boomers.

However, these older generations fall short in one critical category—digital platforms.

The Dominance of Digital

Why is digital so important when it comes to cultural power? Because digital media becoming increasingly more popular than traditional media sources (e.g. TV, radio).

GPI Cultural Power By Generation Supplemental Time Spent on Media

In 2020, Americans spent nearly 8 hours per day consuming digital media, nearly two hours more per day than they spent with traditional media.

This divide is expected to grow even further over the next few years. With younger generations dominating the digital space, Gen X may soon lose its place as the top dog of the culture category.

Celebrity 2.0: The Social Influencer

As audiences flock to online channels, advertisers have followed suit—and they’re willing to spend good money to gain access to their target demographics.

In fact, spend on influencer marketing has steadily increased in the last five years, and it’s expected to reach $13.8 billion by the end of 2021.

GPI Cultural Power By Generation Supplemental Influencer Marketing Spend

This shift to social media advertising is redefining the notion of celebrity, and who reaps the financial benefits of content creation. For instance, six-year-old Vlogger Like Nastya made an estimated $7.7 million per month from her YouTube channel in 2020. And keep in mind, this estimate is purely based on YouTube revenue—it doesn’t even include corporate partnerships and/or merchandise sales.

With all these shifts occurring, culture as we know it is at a crossroads. And as we continue to move towards a digital dominant society, those who hold power in traditional realms will either adapt or pass along the torch.

Download the Generational Power Report (.pdf)

The Generational Power Index

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