WebRef Update: Featured Article: Molly Holzschlag, and the Human Side of the Web
Molly Holzschlag, and the Human Side of the Web "The human contribution is the essential ingredient. It is only in the giving of oneself to others that we truly live." Those are the words of Ethel Percy Andrus (1884-1967), though they exemplify the living philosophy of Molly Holzschlag, prolific Web author, instructor, and designer. Molly and I met at WebChicago, held at the beautifully refurbished Navy Pier convention center overlooking Lake Michigan. Join me for a cordial conversation with Molly, honored as one of the Top 25 Most Influential Women on the Web, for her witty and humanistic reflections on Web origins, trends, changing job skills, technology education, impacts, languages, and inspiration. Molly's latest book, "Teach Yourself Adobe Live Motion in 24 Hours" (SAMS) will be available in May.
Chip: How did you get started with all this?
Molly: My academic training includes a bachelors degree in Writing and Communications and a Masters in Media Studies from the New School for Social Research. When I was studying for my Masters, New School was using the Internet and doing things online already. But the Web as we know it was still very young; this was 1991-92. I had some interesting classes, like Online Journalism. I mean in 1991, who else was thinking about this stuff? So I had a pretty progressive education.
The other start was that I was already working online. I had been involved with online communities, mostly at Genie, which was at one time the largest online commercial service and is now defunct. When they began to build their Internet gateway I sort of got handed the hat. They said "hey, we need people to be our Web masters, go learn this new markup language, HTML."
I was working recently with a guy named Derrick Story, who was the outgoing Managing Editor of Web Review (www.webreview.com/) and is now at O'Reilly Networks, and I was incoming as interim Managing Editor for WR. At one of our planning meetings, he said something very striking to me along the lines of "when we were growing up, we were being trained for the Internet even though we didn't know it." Isn't that an interesting perspective? When he said that, I said "well, that's true, that's really true."
The way I always put it was that I was on a street corner and got hit by a bus, but I had all the right credentials and that's how I survived. I had the right stuff, whatever that means! I could do a little of this, and a little of that, and a little of something else. I could design a little bit, I could certainly communicate well, I could write well, I had visual design experience, and a love of technology, and of course this culminated into my work on and with the Web.
Chip: Those are the elements...
Molly: Certainly. It's changing, though. When we were kids, there was no such thing as: "I want to be a Web designer when I grow up." But now, that does exist, so that's changing the whole dynamic into something new.
Chip: I've seen, as you probably have, too, pages by 12-year-old girls that are just phenomenal.
Molly: I have a close alliance with a 16-year old designer in Germany, named Tobias Horvath. I met him last year, when he was only 15, and this guy is doing phenomenal work. His visual designs...he has no background, he doesn't come from a family that supports this, he's not getting supported at school, he's learned everything on his own, books and online. He has a native skill, and I'm not talking good, I'm talking really good. It's just an awesome thing.
Chip: I feel as though I have so much to catch up on.
Molly: (Chuckling)...Me, too!
Chip: Well, I think that's one thing that attracts people to the Web, people who like to keep learning things.
Chip: And I think we're seeing that with WebTV, all the alternate types of devices [for Web access]. On the one hand, it's really awesome, scary in a sense.
Molly: Well, isn't it interesting that when I used the word "scary" today in a conference presentation, many people admitted that they were, in fact, scared? The truth of the matter is that it's all so overwhelming! It's been my experience that people come to me and tell me they are afraid. They are concerned they are going to lose their edge, lose their jobs, that they don't understand these technologies, can't keep up.
From a technologist's perspective, I'm very interested in seeing technology move forward. From a humanitarian perspective, and a person who has been on the Internet long enough to remember the grassroots ideologies that early online communities had, it is something that gives me great pause. I have to think about it and say: "OK, this is great! I love the technology! I love where it's going AND what about the grassroots community, humanity, global communication, empowerment, that we are setting aside in the name of growth, commerce, marketing, and so forth?"
Revised: May 9, 2000