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An Introduction to Algorithms

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In the modern world, algorithms do much of the digital heavy lifting.

Algorithms control the inner-workings of everything from particle accelerators to stock markets. They determine the news you see, what search results you get, how computers learn, and what gets recommended to you on Netflix or Amazon.

In short, society couldn’t function as-is without algorithms – and as we lean on them to run more things, it becomes more important for us to learn what they are and what they do.

Algorithms 101

Today’s infographic from Futurism digs into the origins of algorithms, and how they impact our everyday lives.

What are algorithms?

What is an Algorithm?

An algorithm is a predetermined set of steps for a computer to accomplish a task. It’s basically an instruction manual. And as in life, instruction manuals can be simple (e.g. building an Ikea side table) or extremely complex (e.g. filing a patent).

Below is “Sorting Out Sorting” (1981), a timeless primer on sorting methods. It clearly demonstrates the way computers approach sorting vast quantities of information by following a set of instructions.

A famous example of an algorithm is Google’s PageRank, which determines the order in which websites appear in Google’s search rankings. PageRank’s methodology is explained succinctly and effectively in the video below.

By building on a stochastic model called the Markov chain, PageRank revolutionized the way the world accesses information. The power of this algorithm is partially responsible for Google’s ability to control 41% of the online ad market, which is where Alphabet still generates the majority of its revenue.

How Algorithms Influence Society

Social platforms play a substantial role in delivering news and information to us. In fact, an estimated 44% of the U.S. population consumes news via Facebook. The more we rely on social networks to supply us with news, the more algorithms will influence what information we’re exposed to. Since social platforms are designed to serve us customized content, there is a growing concern that we are creating online echo chambers that crowd out opposing views.

Algorithms also have a profound influence on our economy. Roughly 50% of the market moves through high frequency trading – the process of using dedicated programs to make automated trading decisions to place orders. Large portions of our economy are now managed with very little human intervention.

In recent years, progress in the field of artificial intelligence has generated an abundance of interest and excitement. Deep learning (a technique for implementing machine learning) is making all kinds of machine-assisted tasks possible. Preventive healthcare, driverless vehicles, drug discovery, bioinformatics, and hyper-customized recommendations on shopping websites are all here today or coming down the pipeline.

Deep Learning

The remarkable thing about deep learning is that it goes beyond what any human can program a computer to do. Programmers have instead used a learning algorithm – fueled by terabytes of data – to train it to perform complex tasks. The computer essentially figures out for itself how to recognize the desired objects, text, or actions.

Breakthroughs like this are the reason AI startups are now receiving billions of dollars of funding.

AI funding

The Algorithmic Economy

The potential upside for technology providers are enormous, particularly if proprietary processes work on a global scale. An era where “things” will communicate autonomously and take actions without human intervention is sure to profoundly impact our society.

The big question is, what will we do once computers and algorithms are taking care of business?

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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 RonaldoSports493MInstagram
#2Justin BieberMusic443MInstagram
#3Ariana GrandeMusic429MInstagram
#4Selena GomezMusic403MInstagram
#5Taylor SwiftMusic361MInstagram
#6Dwayne JohnsonFilm & TV342MInstagram
#7Katy PerryMusic338MInstagram
#8Kylie JennerOther333MInstagram
#9RihannaMusic330MTwitter
#10Kim KardashianOther319MInstagram
#11Lionel MessiSports298MInstagram
#12ShakiraMusic281MFacebook
#13NeymarSports279MInstagram
#14BeyoncéMusic267MInstagram
#15Jennifer LopezMusic267MInstagram
#16Ellen DeGeneresFilm & TV254MInstagram
#17Miley CyrusMusic235MInstagram
#18Nicki MinajMusic232MInstagram
#19Barack ObamaPolitics222MTwitter
#20Will SmithFilm & TV217MFacebook
#21Demi LovatoMusic212MInstagram
#22Kendall JennerOther212MInstagram
#23Lady GagaMusic210MTwitter
#24Virat KohliSports194MInstagram
#25EminemMusic193MFacebook
#26Kevin HartFilm & TV191MInstagram
#27DrakeMusic191MInstagram
#28Bruno MarsMusic188MFacebook
#29Chris BrownMusic186MInstagram
#30Khloé KardashianOther184MInstagram
#31Vin DieselFilm & TV176MFacebook
#32Narendra ModiPolitics175MTwitter
#33Justin TimberlakeMusic170MTwitter
#34Charli D'AmelioOther168MTikTok
#35Kourtney KardashianOther160MInstagram
#36AdeleMusic155MFacebook
#37LeBron JamesSports155MInstagram
#38Billie EilishMusic153MInstagram
#39Whindersson Nunes BatistaOther144MInstagram
#40Wiz KhalifaMusic143MFacebook
#41Akshay KumarFilm & TV140MInstagram
#42Germán GarmendiaGaming140MYoutube
#43Felix "PewDiePie" KjellbergGaming139MYoutube
#44Cardi BMusic139MInstagram
#45Snoop DoggMusic138MInstagram
#46Deepika PadukoneFilm & TV137MInstagram
#47Britney SpearsMusic134MTwitter
#48Salman KhanFilm & TV134MFacebook
#49Priyanka ChopraFilm & TV129MInstagram
#50Shawn MendesMusic128MInstagram

Unsurprisingly, celebrities reign supreme on social media. As of April 2021, soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo was the most-followed person on social media with almost 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 Whindersson Nunes Batista, Germán Garmendia, and Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg.

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.

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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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