Independent voices of 2011: The most influential non-celebrity users of Twitter

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Rhodri Marsden introduces the results of our survey

As we're painfully aware, gaining celebrity status doesn't automatically bestow on you the ability to say anything interesting. Nowhere is this more apparent than on Twitter, where the internationally famous can effortlessly rack up hundreds of thousands of followers purely because of who they are or what they've done, and then fail to utter anything of note.

But the real value of Twitter was never to be found in celebrity back-slapping and self-congratulation; the unsung voices make it compelling. These are the people who aren't driven purely by flogging a book or a film, or fulfilling an obligation to their PR company. They've merely succeeded in harnessing the 140-character medium and then using it to inform, provoke, entertain and engage.

Independent Voices 2011 is an attempt to recognise some of those names. With the help of PeerIndex – a company that maps the social web and is similarly keen on uncovering new sources of authority online – we counted votes from Independent readers and users of the PeerIndex website across seven categories (UK news, world news, people, entertainment, technology, science and environment, and business) to determine a group of winners and runners-up.

Some category victors won't come as a surprise: Wael Ghonim (@ghonim), for example, whose digital activism helped to spark the pro-democracy protests in Egypt. Others, such as Ben Goldacre (@bengoldacre), are already known beyond Twitter for their trenchant views. And then there are more maverick voices, such as Greg Stekelman (@themanwhofell), to vary what might otherwise be a relentless diet of news and comment. What all these Independent Voices have in common is that they help to demonstrate that Twitter, so often maligned for being dull and inconsequential, is also anything but.

How PeerIndex calculated Independent Voices 2011:

The nominations were dispersed across 35,000 accounts. Users with multiple nominations were preferred, then filtered together with their PeerIndex rating and their topical PeerIndex. The PeerIndex rating looks at users' activity over a month and how much they interact with other users. The topical PeerIndex considers endorsements (such as "retweets" and replies) only from users in the same peer group.

The resulting rankings were then further weighted to reduce the prominence of celebrities and those whose following is principally attributable to the news organisation they represent.

As well as our Independent Voices 2011, millions of other users of the social network helped to explain and describe (and even break) the year's biggest news events. Below are some of their most memorable contributions:

UK NEWS

Winner: Owen Jones

@OwenJones84

Precocious former political researcher who rose to prominence in 2011 on the back of his book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. Twitter has helped Jones to become a key voice of the political left, in a year that has seen him post prolifically.

He was also a guest on Newsnight alongside Professor David Starkey when the historian made his "the whites have become black" rant. Soon after, Jones tweeted: "David Starkey has had a career-ending moment, but in the current climate, his comments are very dangerous."

Followers: >17,000

PeerIndex ranking: 65

Runners up

Political Scrapbook

@PSbook

The Twitter feed of the left-leaning website/blog is run by the site's editor, Laurence Durnan. Political Scrapbook's feed follows the site's lead in chasing those with whom it takes issue, from Guido Fawkes (see below) to Tory MP Aidan Burley (who recently participated in a Nazi-themed stag party), and the right-wing press generally.

Followers: >14,000

PeerIndex ranking: 62

Guido Fawkes (Paul Staines)

@GuidoFawkes

Acidic blogger who continues to grow in prominence. (He was recently summoned to give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry.) Staines uses Twitter to call out those he disagrees with and to hound targets of his blog such as Piers Morgan and Chris Huhne.

Followers: >59,000

PeerIndex ranking: 70

Dan Thompson

@artistsmakers

Artist, writer and campaigner who was, along with the anonymous @Riotcleanup, a key voice in organising the post-riot tidying campaign (right). Thompson is also a keen campaigner for making good use of empty spaces and shops.

Followers: >8,400

PeerIndex ranking: 54

BendyGirl

@BendyGirl

BendyGirl is a Wirral-based writer whose blog Benefit Scrounging Scum provides a bold voice speaking out for those living with disability and living on disability benefits.

Followers: >3,700

PeerIndex ranking: 57

Sue Marsh

@suey2y

Another influential voice on such subjects as disability, welfare cuts and the effect of austerity measures on people with disabilities.

Followers: >2,800

PeerIndex ranking: 55

Voices 4 the Library

@UKpling

Voices 4 the Library is an independent, volunteer-run campaign group protesting library closures around Britain. Its feed collates updates on various library-saving campaigns.

Followers: >2,700

PeerIndex ranking: 53

Laurie Penny

@PennyRed

Independent contributor whose Twitter feed has seen her report from the ground at the riots in London and, in New York, from the Occupy Wall Street camp, where she bore witness to the evictions in November.

Followers: >32,000

PeerIndex ranking: 59

The West Londoner

@TheWestLondoner

A site/account run by student Gaz Corfield. Coverage of the riots on Twitter led one million users to the local news hub.

Followers: >3,800

PeerIndex ranking: 13

Old Holborn

@Old_Holborn

Twitter account of the libertarian blog, taking on everyone from the Coalition to OccupyLSX (below).

Followers: >7,400

PeerIndex ranking: 17

Will Dean

WORLD NEWS

Winner: Hossam el-Hamalawy

@3arabawy

An Egyptian journalist and dissident who has worked against the Mubarak regime for years, and who was imprisoned and tortured by state security services as a student, El-Hamalawy has now become a quintessential online voice of the Arab Spring (above). That influence is largely thanks to his vigorous offline activism, which continues today in the face of the Egyptian military's ongoing repression of protest. He argues that the spread of information online played a key role in Egypt's uprising.

Followers: >53,000

PeerIndex ranking: 64

Runners up

Sultan Al Qassemi

@SultanAlQassemi

The UAE-based writer gained 81,000 followers in the course of the year thanks to his constant translations of Arabic-language news from the Middle East and North Africa. His matter-of-fact, reliable updates swiftly established him as one of the most authoritative sources for anyone wishing to make sense of the region's fast-moving uprisings.

Followers: >88,000

PeerIndex ranking: 71

Andy Carvin

@acarvin

His day job as a social media strategist at NPR has morphed into a pioneering role as one of the most influential journalists to cover the Arab Spring. Carvin tweets prolifically, using a vast range of sources to confirm or refute as many of the myriad claims about events in the Middle East made every day as he is able. When the regional uprisings were at their peak, he sent out 1,200 tweets in one 20-hour period.

Followers: >58,000

PeerIndex ranking: 70

Alaa Abd El Fattah

@alaa

Another prominent Egyptian protester and brother of Mona Seif (see below), Alaa Abd El Fattah had long worked to document abuses by the Mubarak regime before the uprisings began. He was arrested by the military in October and accused of inciting violence; although he was initially supposed to be held for only 15 days, he has still not been released. Since then, his Twitter account has fallen silent.

Followers: >74,000

PeerIndex ranking: 53

Asteris Masouras

@asteris

Greek photojournalist and blogger, based in Thessaloniki but tweeting prolifically about the Arab Spring uprisings.

Followers: >7,000

PeerIndex ranking: 63

Gigi Ibrahim

@Gsquare86

Former student of Hossam el-Hamalawy who has become a citizen journalist closely associated with the Egyptian uprising (left).

Followers: >33,000

PeerIndex ranking: 43

Mona Seif

@Monasosh

Part of the same prominent activist family as Alaa Abd El Fattah, she has led protest marches in Cairo and continues to use her feed to voice opposition to military trials for civilians.

Followers: >46,000

PeerIndex ranking: 36

Occupy Wall Street

@OccupyWallSt

The Wall Street protesters' collective Twitter account became a key means for the "99 per cent" to organise their demonstrations, becoming particularly prominent when used to voice the protesters' anger at police attempts to disperse them.

Followers: >140,000

PeerIndex ranking: 34

Marina Petrillo

@alaskaRP

A 22-year veteran of Italian independent radio station Radio Popolare, Marina Petrillo has now become a key Italian aggregator of news about the Arab Spring in the mould of Andy Carvin.

Followers: >5,000

PeerIndex ranking: 37

Archie Bland

PEOPLE

Winner: Wael Ghonim

@Ghonim

In late 2010, Egyptian Google staffer Wael Ghonim set up the Facebook page "We Are All Khaled Said", to commemorate a young man who had been tortured to death by police in Alexandria. The page became an online meeting place for the organisers of the Egyptian revolution, and in January Ghonim returned to Cairo from Google HQ in Dubai to take part in the protests – only to be incarcerated and interrogated himself. Following his release after 11 days, he gave an emotional television interview.

Followers: >277,000

PeerIndex ranking: 41

Runners up

Harry Moseley (and his mum)

@harry_moseley

Harry Moseley (right) died from a brain tumour in October, aged 11. Since his diagnosis, he had raised £650,000 for Cancer Research, using Twitter as his campaign tool. His mum is carrying on the good work.

Followers: >98,000

PeerIndex ranking: 63

Shaun Usher

@LettersOfNote

Shaun Usher (above), a copywriter from Manchester, made his Twitter name thanks to his wonderful blog, Letters of Note (soon to be a book), an "online homage to offline correspondence".

Followers: >39,000

PeerIndex ranking: 55

TheBloggess

@TheBloggess

A columnist from Texas, Jenny Lawson, writes and tweets very funny things about sex, parenting and cats. She has a book coming out in 2012 so may soon qualify as a celebrity.

Followers: >195,000

PeerIndex ranking: 60

Tim Walker

ENTERTAINMENT

Winner Jacques as in Hattie

@jacques_aih

Former Popbitch editor "Jacques as in Hattie" is building a faithful following as he embarks on a comedy writing career. His musings on life, politics and football can be found at his blog, while he also contributes to online satirical show Britain's Got People. His Twitter feed is imbued with one-liners ("I'm in love with my own sexual innuendoes. I'm a fnarcissist") and he makes sure it always remains topical. The recent death of North Korea's dictator was met with: "Kim Jong-il never drank alcohol? Ah, so he was a teetotalitarian dictator."

Followers: >5,900

PeerIndex rating: 17

Runners up

Greg Stekelman

@themanwhofell

Whimsical, funny and poignant, The Man Who Fell Asleep certainly keeps his word that he tweets "a lot". He will be familiar to some from the popular column Overheard Underground, which ran in Time Out, and his book London Tales.

Followers: >19,000

PeerIndex rating: 45

Moose Allain

@MooseAllain

Moose Allain was a London architect before moving to Devon in 2006 to work as an artist. He uses Twitter to write what he calls "little stories and other thoughts" punctuated with funny one-liners and links to his always-informative spider facts.

Followers: >8,800

PeerIndex rating: 49

James Ward

@iamjamesward

After jokingly suggesting on Twitter that he organise a conference specialising in subjects that sound mundane but are actually really interesting, Ward received a swell of support. He launched "Boring 2010" shortly afterwards and the conference celebrated its second anniversary last month.

Followers: >6,000

PeerIndex rating: 45

Tyler B Peters

@thetylerpeters

Culture Junkie is the brainchild of entertainment and lifestyle PR man Tyler Peters. The site covers pop culture (like this year's big-seller, Adele, below), fashion, arts, technology and advertising.

Followers: >1,750

PeerIndex rating: 43

Nick Clark

TECHNOLOGY

Winner Sue Black

@dr_black

As well as being a noted computing academic at University College London, Black has made her name as a digital campaigner – pushing for the advancement of women in technology. She was also a key figure in the successful campaign to save and preserve Bletchley Park, home of the Enigma code-crackers and birthplace of the modern computer. Sue's Twitter feed combines all the above interests, from poor IT teaching in schools to her work and talks. A key voice in an increasingly digital future.

Followers: >7,000

PeerIndex rating: 47

Runners up

Emma Mulqueeny

@hubmum

Web developer and writer. Mulqueeny runs Rewired State and Young Rewired State hack days (events when developers use existing data to create new platforms/gadgets/programmes for companies or governments). Like Sue Black, Mulqueeny is a keen campaigner on how ICT and computing are taught in schools – even launching an e-petition campaigning for an earlier entry for programming into the classroom, at primary level, and to encourage girls' interest in technology.

Followers: >3,000

PeerIndex rating: 55

Will Francis

@willfrancis

Francis is the multi-talented co-founder of social media consultancy Harkable, which tells firms how to market online. He is also a musician, producer and blogger, and his Twitter feed is a vast source of technical and quirky technology stories.

Followers: 60,000

PeerIndex rating: 26

Ashley Ford

@ashleyford

Another multi-tasker, Ford is a designer and web developer who has worked for giants like MySpace and Spotify. Ford's blog, PaperMashup, is a treasure trove of fancy tricks for developers – his tweets link to both that information and other designers' work.

Followers: >49,000

PeerIndex rating: 25

Kara Swisher

@karaswisher

Kara Swisher is a technology writer and editor for the Wall Street Journal's esteemed digital site All Things D (the D is for digital).

As you'd expect from a prominent tech journalist, her feed is a mixture of WSJ stories and other breaking digital news.

Followers: >765,000

PeerIndex rating: 92

Robert Scoble

@scobleizer

Scoble is on staff at hosting service Rackspace but his feed is about more than mere megabytes – he curates a swathe of news and opinion.

Followers: >225,000

PeerIndex rating: 76

Pete Cashmore

@mashable

Cashmore (left) is the Scottish founder of Mashable.com who's just been named one of Forbes' digital "30 Under 30" thanks to the success of Mashable – one of the most linked sites on the web.

Followers: >2.6m

PeerIndex rating: 69

Jack Schofield

@jackschofield

Long-standing digital and technology writer for The Guardian who has a following in his own right.

Followers: >18,000

PeerIndex rating: 63

James Governor

@monkchips

Co-founder of and analyst for technology industry analysts RedMonk, Governor posts on anything from working environments to the perils of Google+ and the global politics of social networks.

Followers: >12,300

PeerIndex rating: 64

Will Dean

SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT

Winner Ben Goldacre

@bengoldacre

The Bad Science author, Guardian columnist and debunker of media science myths (below) uses his popular Twitter account for much the same means – flagging up iffy reports and surveys and calling out newspapers on science stories. The self-described "zealot for evidence-based thinking and science" is also a keen disseminator of good research, ranging from things such as fuel poverty reports in The Lancet to an LSE study on how housework influences divorces.

Followers: >165,000

PeerIndex rating: 74

Runners up

Maria Popova

@brainpicker

One of the best accounts out there, Popova cherry-picks intriguing, interesting and downright out-there technology and innovation stories from across the web. On any given day, Popova and her Brainpicker website may alert readers to anything from vintage science adverts from the Fifties to research about how cycling is helping to liberate Indian women.

Followers: >118,000

PeerIndex rating: 76

Rhys Morgan

@rhysmorgan

Morgan, a 17-year-old Welsh sixth-former, has become one of the most prominent sceptics on the web thanks to his well-written blog. His recent account of being threatened with libel by a man said to represent an experimental cancer clinic in America made him a cause célèbre both in the science community and on Twitter.

Followers: >3,500

PeerIndex rating: 41

Andy Lewis

@lecanardnoir

Le Canard Noir is the alter ego of another sceptical blogger, Andy Lewis, whose feed and website (The Quackometer) both call out those suspected of medical quackery. Lewis was threatened by the same US clinic as Rhys Morgan.

Followers: >4,300

PeerIndex rating: 57

Phil Plait

@BadAstronomer

Former Hubble Space Telescope (right) worker Phil Plait is an American scientist and science writer who created the Bad Astronomy blog for Discover magazine. Though noted for his debunking and scepticism, Plait's blog and Twitter account are good sources of astronomy news, too.

Followers: >155,000

PeerIndex rating: 74

Bora Zivkovic

@BoraZ

Born in Belgrade, but now based in North Carolina in the United States, Zivkovic is a science blogger who started writing in the run-up to the 2004 US election. His Twitter feed is a constantly updated mixture of newsy science links. For example, after the death of Kim Jong-il, he shared a piece on the history of North Korea's "dud" nuclear testing.

Followers: >10,000

PeerIndex rating: 64

Andy Marshall

@fotofacade

Andy Marshall is a freelance architectural photographer based in Manchester. His Twitter feed picks up architectural news, innovations and both his and others' photography.

Followers: >3,500

PeerIndex rating: 52

Vinay Gupta

@leashless

If there were one follower you'd want to @reply when the world looks like it's coming to an end... Gupta says he's "one of the world's leading thinkers on infrastructure theory and state failure solutions". His work, and Twitter sharing, focuses on the importance of helping governments and NGOs in the event of mass disasters.

Followers: >2,400

PeerIndex rating: 56

Will Dean

BUSINESS

Winner Umair Haque

@umairh

Describing himself as an "author, blogger, thinker, reformer", Umair Haque also manages to find time to be a prolific tweeter. As well as being director of the Havas Media Lab think-tank and a blogger for the Harvard Business Review, he wrote The New Capitalist Manifesto, his call for a better approach to business. Also has a taste for a photoshopped picture, judging by his recent retweet of a shot of Angela Merkel feeding Nicolas Sarkozy like a baby. Followers: >168,000

PeerIndex rating: 81

Runners up

Lucy P Marcus

@lucymarcus

The founder and head of Marcus Venture Consulting, which works with private equity and venture capital funds, Marcus is also a columnist for both Reuters and Harvard Business Review and is a major voice on boards and corporate governance.

Followers: >6,100

PeerIndex rating: 63

Brian Solis

@briansolis

Brian Solis' hugely influential blog on business and new media is required reading for forward-looking companies and his 100k+ followers.

Followers: >113,440

PeerIndex rating: 73

Michel Bauwens

@mbauwens

Belgian dot.com entrepreneur who went on to set up the Foundation for Peer-to-Peer Alternatives to explore human co-operation. Has taught courses on the anthropology of digital society to postgraduates. Lives in Thailand, tweeting about the open web, among other things.

Followers: >2,320

PeerIndex rating: 59

Hussein Kanji

@hkanji

Who are you gonna call if you're an embryonic start-up in need of an angel investor? Hussein Kanji. Companies he's backed have gone on to be snapped up by the likes of Sky, Yahoo and EA. Follow him for ear-to-the-ground insider talk.

Followers: >4,092

PeerIndex rating: 58

Nilofer Merchant

@nilofer

CEO, strategist and author, Merchant blogs for The Harvard Business Review by night and "ignites cultures of innovation" by day. Her blog and Twitter feed are a mine of information on entrepreneurship.

Followers: >10,660

PeerIndex rating: 58

Bill Fischer

@bill_fischer

New York-born professor at IMD in Switzerland.

Followers: >10,090

PeerIndex rating: 56

Carol Roth

@caroljsroth

Former investment banker Roth is a tough-talking business strategist.

Followers: >15,500

PeerIndex rating: 56

Sean Park

@parkparadigm

Venture capitalist Park's blog and tweets offer his thoughts on the future of finance.

Followers: >402

PeerIndex rating: 39

Guy Kawasaki

@guykawasaki

The former Apple man tweets on smart ideas and business/ technology news.

Followers: >454,000

PeerIndex rating: 34

Rebecca Armstrong, Toby Green, Tim Walker

To measure your own PeerIndex ranking and for more information about PeerIndex and its systems for measuring "social capital" visit peerindex.com

TWEETS OF THE YEAR

The shooting of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Gabrielle Giffords @Rep_Giffords

My first Congress on Your Corner starts now. Please stop by to let me know what is on your mind or tweet me later. [Giffords posted this update shortly before she was shot in Arizona.]

8 January

The Arab Spring begins in Tunisia

Voice of Freedom @Voiceoftunisia

Tunisians too early for congratulations, we did not succeed yet. power is still in the corrupt RCD party. #sidibouzid #tunisia#jasminrevolt

14 January

Hosni Mubarak stands down

Mahmoud Salem @Sandmonkey

FIREWORKS, CELEBRATIONS, FUN! JUBILATION! I AM NOT MAKING SENSE. I AM HEADING TO TAHRIR! #JAN25.

1 February

Christchurch earthquake

Sam Kivi@kiwisivi

Huge earthquake in chch just now short but violent. Very disturbing. Ground still rumbling. Just had another big shock as I write.

22 February

Japan earthquake

Tomoko A Hosaka @TomokoHosaka

Wow, that was the biggest earthquake I've felt in my nine years in Japan. Very scary.

11 March

Osama bin Laden killed by US troops

Sohaib Athar @ReallyVirtual

Helicopter hovering above Abbottabd at 1am (is a rare event).

2 May

Keith Urbahn @keithurbahn

So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.

1 May

The Hacking scandal

John Prescott

@johnprescott

BSkyB bid over. PCC to be abolished. Senior News International staff arrested. Inquiry on way. Yep. I'm happy.

13 July

Rupert Murdoch gets cream-pied at the parliamentary select committee

Jonnie Marbles

@JonnieMarbLes

It is a far better thing that I do now than I have ever done before #splat.

19 July

The Norwegian shootings, July

Christian Aglen

@chaglen

Unreal. An entire block has exploded! Huge explosion rocks Oslo, Norway!

22 July

Jorgen BP

@jorgenbp

#unconfirmed reports of shooting and drama at #Labour Youth League Camp on Utoya. Oh my god, what a day. #oslo

22 July

The Summer Riots

Eleanor Morgan

@eleanormorgan

Can't actually believe what I'm seeing. Barely concious p/man under my window. 30 or so horses just charged past.

8 August

HeardinLondon

@HeardinLondon

Elderly shop keeper covering his doorway in wet towls crying #Hackney #LondonRiots. 8 August

Apple founder Steve Jobs dies

Sean Bennett

@seanabennett

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there & yet it is the destination we all share" – Steve Jobs

7 October

The death of Muammar Gaddafi

Nasr Anaizi

@alchemist585

#Tripoli Ships in the harbor are sounding their horns. I am still exerting so much effort to restrain my excitement.

20 October

Taken from A Twitter Year compiled by Kate Bussmann

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