The most important internet companies you haven't heard of

The services that make the web tick

We all know who the big internet players are: Amazon, Google, eBay. But while they're all big organisations with huge influence, other key internet companies are virtually unknown beyond their own boardrooms.

Sometimes that's because they operate in different territories - you can be big in China without anybody in the West knowing your name - and sometimes it's because they don't sell their products to end users, but to other tech firms.

And sometimes it's because they just don't see the need to have a high profile. Here are some of the biggest names you might not know about, and why they matter to the internet.

Akamai

Akami

You might not know Akamai, but you'd know if it fell over: its content delivery network serves up to 30% of all web traffic, with clients including Apple, Facebook, eBay and Google. Its network consists of servers scattered around the globe, and it's a simple idea that requires serious engineering: when you request the website of an Akamai customer or content from that site, your request is routed to a perfect copy on the Akamai server closest to you.

Tier 1 Providers

Tier 1

Tier 1 networks are internet networks that can reach every other tier 1 network, and they're effectively the backbone of the internet (although if we're being pedantic, they're the networks that connect directly to the internet backbone. Don't write in). Providers include AT&T, British Telecom, Equant, InfoNet and MCI, organisations who own what are essentially the motorways of the internet: tier 1 networks have the highest speed connections and very reliable networks, and their providers own the infrastructure rather than renting it from somebody else.

Digital River

Digital River

Digital River doesn't like to talk numbers very much, but we do know that in 2014 it handled an incredible $30 billion in online payments. The firm is in the commerce-as-a-service business. If you want somebody to handle your software downloads or your in-game purchases, your internet of things subscriptions or your Android apps, Digital River is the company to call. Clients include some of the world's biggest gaming brands, as well as Samsung, Logitech, Microsoft and HTC.

Priceline Group

Priceline

The travel booking website Priceline is ranked the 8th biggest Internet company by revenue, operating in more than 200 countries under the brands Booking.com, Priceline.com, Agoda.com, KAYAK, Rentalcars.com and OpenTable. There's a very good chance if you're booking a trip or a treat, you'll encounter one of Priceline's brands. Last year it handled $55.5 billion in bookings.

Mindgeek

MindGeek

Mindgeek describes itself as "a leader in Web Design, IT, Web Development and SEO of… highly trafficked websites." Yep, that means porn. It either owns or partners with adult content providers, and a spokesperson told the Irish Independent that it's one of the top five bandwidth consumers in the world. Mindgeek owns or operates all of the sites in the PornHub network including RedTube and YouPorn and operates a number of pornographic movie studios too. Chances are, if it's somebody's naughty bits it's either from a Mindgeek property or from a Mindgeek partner.

Jasper Technologies

Jasper

Now part of Cisco's electronic empire, Jasper provides a cloud-based software platform for Internet of Things devices, and that platform is used by networks including AT&T, NTT DoCoMo, Telstra and others as well as a whole range of household names including Amazon and General Motors, Nissan, Ford, VW and Tesla. Coca-Cola uses it for its connected vending machines and General Electric for its connected jet engines. We didn't even know connected jet engines were a thing.

Indeed.com

Indeed

Alexa rates Indeed.com 54th in the US and 146th worldwide, making it much more popular than the better known Monster.com. Indeed.com is available in 50 countries and 28 languages, and it grabs jobs listings from thousands of different websites - jobs boards, newspapers, corporate "work for us" pages - to make jobseekers' lives as easy as possible. The UK version alone added 237,897 new jobs in the last seven days.

Rakuten

Rakuten

No, not the ecommerce website at Rakuten.co.uk, which has stopped operations as of August 2016: we mean the much more important Rakuten, Inc, whose Rakuten Ichiba is the biggest e-commerce site in Japan. Its businesses include online retail, travel and hotel booking, online video and banking. Rakuten, Inc did own Rakuten.co.uk - it acquired Play.com and rebranded it - but when the UK government closed the VAT loophole that enabled Play to offer lower prices the investment lost much of its appeal.

Alibaba Group

Alibaba Group

Alibaba isn't a company, it's a Chinese conglomerate whose parts include the eBay-esque Taobao, the Alibaba.com marketplace, the Alipay payments service and a growing presence in offline retail too. The group's revenue was a whopping 101.1 billion Chinese Yuan (around £11.55 billion) in its most recent financial year. The group began as a business to business website for matching Chinese manufacturers with overseas buyers, and it's now the world's largest retailer.

Tencent

Tencent

Tencent is another Chinese giant. It's one of the world's largest internet companies, with interests including social networks, web portals, online commerce, e-payment systems and multiplayer gaming. Its Tencent QQ is hugely popular in China, as is its QQ.com web portal, and in 2015 its market value cracked the $200 billion mark. In the West, it's best known for its WeChat social mobile app, one of the most popular messaging apps in the world.

Softbank

Softbank

Japan's Softbank is a truly massive telecommunications and internet corporation, with divisions delivering broadband, telephone, e-commerce, semiconductor design and various technological services. Ranked the 62nd biggest public company in the world and the third largest in Japan, it increased its market cap by an incredible 557% between 2009 and 2014. In addition to its own businesses it has partnerships with Yahoo and E-Trade, it has significant investments in Alibaba and Sprint and it's a member of the Open Handset Alliance.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Contributor

Former lion tamer, Girls Aloud backing dancer and habitual liar Gary Marshall (Twitter, Google+) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to .net, MacFormat, Tap! and Official Windows Magazine as well as co-writing stacks of how-to tech books. "My job is to cut through the crap," he says. "And there's a lot of crap."