Powerful digital media players are the creators of the future. They are the people tapping the potential of the digital economy to take us kicking and screaming into the depths of the 21st century — whether or not we want to be there.

They’re the innovators driving new forms of interaction and engagement online, and across different hardware platforms — such as mobile phones, tablets and gaming consoles. And they’re disrupting the status quo. In their determination to develop the commercial models to make digital media a viable form of business, they’ll never hesitate to threaten, or even destroy, the traditional players in whatever space they chose to dabble.

You may not have heard of some of the people on this list. But you have engaged with the products and services they represent or have helped to shape. Given the data many of us are prepared to share online, some of these individuals may well have more influence over you than you think.

This sector thrives on collaboration, so the digital media network is one in which all the facets matter: the start-ups, the backers (VCs, angel community), the middle-sized businesses, the traditional players with a digital offering, the deal makers and the network creators — especially those on the side of the industry’s big game changer, the National Broadband Network. Our top 10 aims to reflect this network.

What can powerful digital media players do?

  • Reinvent our thinking around what’s possible online.
  • Enable the specialised hubs and communities that bring us closer to like-minded individuals.
  • Deliver the commercial models to make digital media profitable.
  • Drive deals, share expertise and secure finance to back good ideas.
  • Network, in person as well as online. It’s a small industry; contacts matter.

What makes them influential?

  • Audience. In this game, there’s no hiding behind the so-called impact of a double-page spread in a hard-copy publication. A digital audience can be measured and specifically targeted. The bigger the audience, the more influential the digital media player.
  • Dollars. A digital media player is only as good as his or her ability to get the backing they need to finance their projects. They may acquire such funding via venture capital and the investment community, or from the resources within their own organisations.
  • Ideas. Digital media players must constantly innovate to remain relevant.
  • Smarts. If the digital media player doesn’t have it, then they must make sure they at least have access to the engineering, development and/or intellectual capacity they need to translate it.
  • Authenticity. This is the web. Transparency is only a click away. Be yourself or you’ll be figured out very quickly and dismissed.

What do they have over the rest of us?

  • A passion for making our online experience better — and a charismatic way of talking about it.
  • An ability to network and engage, either physically or via forums online.
  • The capacity to bring ideas to fruition, or at least access to resources needed to make it happen.
  • A sense of dress that looks good, but appears like they haven’t gone to too much effort (even though they probably have).
  • A work space that oozes inspiration and fun (but may look a little ridiculous to outsiders).

Five types of digital media specialists

  • Technologists: the super nerds who’ll happily immerse themselves in a sea of code and potentially dream about programming and problem solving.
  • Management gurus: the uber-cool management types who find a home in the digital media space. They may not have the programming capacity of their technologist brothers and sisters, but they can talk the talk and connect the nerd-speak with the ideas, the money, the clients or even their own bosses who’ve entrusted a digital project to them.
  • Entrepreneurs: the ideas people, either sitting around the kitchen table or brainstorming over a free lunch at Google.
  • The backers: the believers of good ideas. Perhaps they’ve formed start-ups of their own, perhaps they’ve just got money to burn. Whatever it is, they play a powerful role in digital media.
  • The jack-of-all-trades: or the individuals everyone loves to hate. These are the digital media players blessed with all of the above traits. They’re the most valuable players in the business.

And the #10 power player … Alan Noble:

When Alan Noble talks, people listen. That’s because he’s got the smarts, the Silicon Valley experience and a direct mandate from the globe’s most powerful digital media company, Google, to drive innovation and development in Australia.

Noble’s not the boss of the search giant’s local operations (Nick Leeder fills that role), but he is in charge of its Sydney R&D headquarters, which puts him at the top of the food chain when it comes to digital development in this country. Noble and his team of around 250 engineers and developers are tinkering with online products used by hundreds of millions of people across the globe — including Chrome, Maps and Docs.

“He’s got people looking at weird and wonderful stuff,” Intel’s Australian managing director Philip Cronin says. “They’re working on worldwide products, but they’re innovating for their own sake as well.”

And if you believe Google’s take on it, there’s no reason that the next big thing to shape how we interact and participate online won’t emerge from the Sydney’s Google digs: just like Google Maps did in 2007 (well, at least after its earlier state was acquired from Where 2 Technologies).

*Read the full profile at The Power Index