"One of the greatest digerati" and amongst the "Top 25 Most
Influential Women on the Web"
This week, Stephen Ibaraki, I.S.P., has an
exclusive interview with Molly E. Holzschlag.
An author, instructor, and Web designer, Molly has authored over 30 books
related to Web design and development. She is "one of the greatest digerati" and
amongst the “Top 25 Most Influential Women on the Web”. There is little doubt
that in the world of Web design and development, Molly is one of the most fun
and vibrant Web characters around.
As a steering committee member for the Web
Standards Project (WaSP), Molly works along with a group of other dedicated
Web developers and designers to promote W3C recommendations. She also teaches
Webmaster courses for the University of Arizona, University of
Phoenix, and Pima
Community College. She wrote the very popular column, Integrated Design,
Techniques Magazine for the last three years of its life, and spent a year
as Executive Editor of WebReview.com.
Amongst her latest book credits are 250
HTML and Web Design Secrets from Wiley, and Sams Teach Yourself Movable Type in
24 Hours, both of which are garnering favorable reviews.
Q: Molly, your elite reputation for
excellence precedes you; we are very fortunate to have you with us for this
interview. Thank you!
A: The good fortune is mine!
Q: As “one of the greatest of digerati”, how
did you get your start in computing?
A: I grew up knowing I was going to be a
writer. I spent most of my childhood reading and writing, and most of my teens
and early twenties living wild adventures worthy of a poet and novelist. My
first professional job was as a medical research writer, and I did that for
several years before I found the online world. Little did I know that I’d end
up making my mark as a technical author, it was never in the plan.
I became ill in my twenties to the point
that I was housebound for several years. During this time, I was extremely
challenged to find something to do with myself. My brother gave me his
Commodore 64 so I could have a computer for my writing endeavors. Another
friend gave me a modem for the holidays. That would be a 300 baud Hayes
external modem, which was approximately the size of a tissue box. I got online
with local BBSs and QLink – which was where I saw live, international chat for
the first time. I knew I was looking at something that was going to change my
life – I just didn’t know how dramatically that change would become.
From that point, my fascination for the
online world grew into a major passion, one that has stayed with me to this
day, some 15 years later.
Q: Please share two surprising experiences.
A: (1) The day I received an email from a
publisher asking me to write a book about web design. It was 1995, and the idea that a publisher
would just email me and make that kind of an offer made no sense. I’d long held the belief that writers had to
struggle to get book deals, and here was some guy offering me a contract out of
the blue. I didn’t believe it! I thought it was a hoax, but I researched it
and it was in fact very real. I had the
contract the next day, and began writing my first book. That was a definite surprise.
(2) I was once doing training for a startup
in San Jose during the rising years of the dot.com generation. I kept hearing
this gong sound off every half hour or so. I asked “what’s that?” and was told each time the gong sounded, it
represented that another half million or more was raised for the companies
endeavors. That surprised me. They’re out of business now. That didn’t surprise
Q: Can you share with us a humorous story?
A: People often ask me how I came about
getting the molly.com domain. Under the advice of my then book-authoring
mentor, Harley Hahn (who owns harley.com, which is way too cool if you ask me),
grabbing that domain was important to my career. At the time, domain
registration was under the auspices of the internic, back when registering
domain names was free. The problem was someone else had it, but it had gone
into a non-active status and was about to be released. I must have typed
“whois” from my dialup command-line Internet account 400 times a day just
waiting to see when that status changed. The moment it did, I grabbed molly.com
Within five minutes, I received an email
from a guy at a subsidiary of Wang. He wrote to tell me that he, too, was
trying to get the domain name because of a big search engine project they were
working on that had been code-named “Molly” after the CEO’s baby girl. Could I
be so kind as to give up molly.com for their venture, and in return receive a
link from their soon-to-be search engine? It was sure to get me lots of hits.
Now remember, this was back in the bad old days when everyone was
cybersquatting like mad. I told the guy no way.
Next thing I know, an email with a photo of
little Molly came flying through the ethers, apparently a plea to my maternal
instincts. Perhaps they thought if I saw her darling, cherubic cheeks I’d
instantly think “How cute! How selfish of me to want molly.com, I’ll give it to
this darling baby girl.” Um, right. I
told the guy no way.
So he comes back at me one more time, this
time saying “name your price.” So I did.
I told him he could have molly.com for the price of my retirement. Suffice it
to say I’ve had molly.com ever since. I often wondered what happened to that
search engine project, too. I assume it got bit-bucketed.
Q: Describe in “detail” your work, as a
steering committee member for the Web Standards Project (WaSP).
A: My role at WaSP has largely been related
to the organization’s membership and the ongoing need for us to constantly
revisit who we are and why we are. We have been struggling to find our identity
– the standards work has just begun – but our current audience is mostly
well-educated at this point. How do we branch out? What message do we want to
send now? How can we, as a group of very busy people, find ways to promote Web
standards without burdening our already burdened schedules? We have no real
answers yet, but are chipping away at the issue while keeping our BUZZ blog the
primary face of WaSP to the public, and the focus on the independent work of
our members in their evangelical roles.
If you asked other WaSPs what role I play
in the organization, they’ll probably tell you I’m the “Mom” or the “Witch
(with a “B”)”, depending upon how they see it :).
Q: What ten tips can you pass on from your
A: 1) Know your audience.
2) Know what your intent with the site is,
and clearly state it.
3) Content is critical.
4) Document everything.
5) Balance knowledge with experience for
6) Learn the most you can about the
technologies with which you work.
7) Learn the most you can about browser
problems and how to work around them effectively.
8) Adhere to web standards.
9) Care about your disabled audience
your process constantly.
Q: Share your valuable experiences from
your popular column, Integrated Design, for Web
A: Writing a regular column for a print
magazine was a critical point in my technical as well as editorial education. I
started out with a lot of passion and a little knowledge, and by the time the
magazine folded during the dot.bomb, I ended up with a lot of knowledge and a
passion somewhat jaded. It was a fair trade, though, because it was during that
time that I became exposed to Web standards and the range of topics that
interest me these days. Since that time, the passion has been re-ignited, and
InformIT has allowed me to pick up the column again, this time with the name
“Integrated Web Design” based on my book of the same name, which was based on
the original column. Oh, what a web we weave.
Q: Describe your work as Executive Editor
A: The happiest days of my life to date surrounded
the work I did for WebReview. I came in as the transitional managing editor,
when O’Reilly sold the online magazine to CMP Media, which owned Web Techniques
and the WEB conference series among many other technical properties.
It was a
fascinating process to take an online magazine from one company to another,
rework and refashion its efforts as well as redesign the entire site. It was
such a successful transition that I was asked to stay on for a year as
Executive Editor, and what a year it was. I worked with the best team ever,
I got to work from home in Tucson and commute to San Francisco once a month –
which was a terrific balance for me, and I got to meet so many of the amazing
writers, designers, and developers who graced us with their talents. In fact,
some of my very close colleagues today, such as Eric Meyer, Christopher
Schmitt, Nick Finck, Biz Stone – the list goes on and on – came out of that
It was a great period of my life and I mourn its passing, which it
decidedly did when the dot.bomb hit.
Q: What ten goals do you hope to accomplish
as one of the “Top 25 Most Influential Women on the Web”?
A: 1) Promote web standards.
2) Promote accessibility.
3) Promote best practices.
4) Assist people in pursuing their
professional goals within the industry.
5) Continue speaking and meeting people
from all corners of the industry and the world.
6) Continue to enjoy blogging at molly.com
and interacting with my awesome site visitors.
7) Write more books.
8) Write more articles.
9) Be a helpful resource to my readers,
students, and clients.
10) Never stop learning.
Q: Pick four books from the more than 30
you have written and share five tips from each book.
A: Book 1 title: Special Edition Using HTML & XHTML
a) Always use a correct DOCTYPE
b) Validate your documents
c) Write structured documents
d) Use CSS for presentation
e) Fall back on tables for layout only when
absolutely necessary to do so.
Book 2 title: CSS: The Designer’s Edge
Consider your blog’s goals carefully.
a) Begin with a structured document.
b) Understand your document tree.
c) Understand the way CSS integrates with that document
d) Understand inheritance, the cascade, and
e) Know your hacks and workarounds, use
them only when you have to
Book 3 title: Teach Yourself Movable Type in 24 Hours (with
a) Installation can be complicated, but
following a sequential set-up can help you avoid problems.
If you’re not a designer, consider
using pre-designed templates
e) Techniques for managing comment spam.
Book 4 title: 250 HTML and Web Design
Put together an excellent selection of
b) Understand the need for process and
c) Develop good habits when developing,
preparing, and publishing content.
d) Use valid HTML or XHTML wherever
e) Use CSS for presentation wherever possible.
Q: Provide an overview of your recent book
credit, Sams Teach Yourself Movable Type in 24 Hours. Why should our readers
study this book? What differentiates it from other books?
A: The differentiation is that at this
time, there isn’t much out there on Movable Type. So it’s a great starting
point for new users. Movable Type isn’t an easy program to work with; this book
provides real step-by-step help. I co-authored it with Porter Glendinning, who
has great insight and style, so the book – while a series book – has a lot of
personality. The tag reference in the book that Porter wrote is worth the price
of the book alone.
Q: What prompted you to start writing?
A: As mentioned, I always knew I would
write. Once I took that first invitation, it became pathological. I’ve joked
about this a lot, but there’s some underlying truth to it – it’s like an
addiction. I rarely look back, I focus on the book I’m writing right now, and
what I’ll be writing next.
I’m a very verbal person. Could you imagine
having to listen to me go on and on in person? Trust me, my family can only take so much. So book writing and public
speaking and training are good, focused, healthy outlets for my overly verbose
Q: Provide your viewpoints on the major
technologies today and where you see them in the future. For example: XML, UML,
Web services, the Internet, Java vs C#, VB, C++, and other ones that you may
wish to comment on.
A: I’m not really qualified to discuss any
of these issues with the exception of the Internet, which, when I look in my
magic crystal ball here, looks extremely different in the future than it is
today. How is it different? I don’t know, and frankly, the mystery is part of
Q: What are the ten most compelling issues
facing technology professionals today and in the future? How can they be
I can address this as it pertains to web
design and development specifically.
A: 1) Adhering to web standards. I think
people are being convinced, it’s just a slow process. The real barrier still
remains in the hands of browser developers. Fix the browsers and there’d be no
Funding education and training,
particularly for government and education.
2) Making sites accessible. As if this
should even be an issue – the web was meant to be a platform and device
independent medium. We need to get back to that vision.
3) Managing security issues in web browsers
and operating systems. Dear Microsoft,
my mother’s computer is loaded with spyware, adware, and viruses. Please stop
being so sloppy and start respecting your customers.
Re-evaluate the idea that cheaper is
better. Consider the outsourcing issue. In some cases, it might in fact be more
economical in the short term, but are the results as good? Quality comes with a
6) Managing what I call “OGS” – Organic
Growth Syndrome. This means figuring out methods of managing growing web sites
with thousands, even millions of documents.
7) Integrating skills more efficiently
8) Improving communication within web teams
9) Improving communication between web
teams and management / administration
10) Providing ongoing education for all
Q: What future books can we expect from
currently working on a project with Dave Shea of Mezzoblue, and am writing a
non-technical professional’s guide to HTML & CSS.
Q: What do you consider to be the most
important trends to watch, and please provide some recommendations?
A: 1) Blogging in general.
2) Blogging tools in specific.
3) Blogging features as they apply to web
sites: Comment systems; content aggregation, trackback technology.
4) Content Management Systems
5) Mass document management in industry,
government, military and education
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?
have numerous setups, including Windows and Mac OS (but not OS X). I am so fed up with Microsoft’s sloppiness (I
worked for MSN for five years, so I take it a little personally) that I want to
move everything to Mac OS X and Linux. I’m starving for a PowerBook, though, so anyone out there who’s
interested in taking pity on this poor writer, please buy me one!
Q: If you had to do it all over again….?
I could go back in time and rearrange things, I would warn investors not to
invest in air, prevent the over-extended, “it’s a Bonanza!” mentality that led
the dot.com to the dot.bomb. Because
when it blew, it blew up some really good stuff along with the nonsense.
I’d set my time machine to ensure that 9/11
I’d encourage the refocusing of the U.S.
government onto the positive growth toward a global community where resources
can be shared and use the Internet as a means of helping to distribute that
information and those resources. The dot.bomb, 9/11, and subsequent political
strife have all resulted in a wound to the industry as well as the human soul
that may take lifetimes to repair, but I doggedly remain optimistic.
Q: What drives you to do what you do?
A: I fell in love with the Web, its
denizens, its technologies, and its vision. When we’re in love, we do
everything we can – sometimes even to the point of self-destruction – to keep
that love the focal point of our lives.
Q: How do you keep up with all the changes?
A: I don’t. I get stuck just like everyone. But I just keep chipping away at it, learning what I can, keeping my
mind open to new ideas, and constantly staying in touch with other people from
all levels of the industry so that new ideas and fresh perspectives are always
a simple “hey” away.
Q: If you were doing this interview, what
five questions would you ask of someone in your position and what would be your
A: Q1: What does it feel like to have so
much attention placed on your work?
A1: Scary and wonderful. Scary because I don’t
want to let people down, yet I’m imperfect and make mistakes the same as
everyone. So it’s bound to happen from time to time. Wonderful because it makes
me feel like I’m doing something important in the world, and lasting, and I
think most people want to feel that.
Q2: Do you always see yourself in the industry?
A2: No. I believe there will come a day I walk
away from computers and communications technologies, buy some land in a remote
area, grow my own food, build my own shelter, and spend my time reading, making
music, and writing about completely different topics.
Q3: You are very outspoken and open on your weblog. Has this ever caused you
A3: Yes, I was the victim of a physical
attack based on things someone read on my weblog. I have also had a few stalker
types as a result. Neither of these things will stop me from living my life and
expressing it authentically.
Q4: What do you consider the most
gratifying part of your work?
A4: The fact that I look at my peers and
realize that they are the people I admire most in the world. The fact that I
get to meet people from all walks of life and truly interact with them.
Q5: What do you consider the most
frustrating part of your work?
A5: Trying to rebuild my business after the
dot.bomb. While I managed to stay working, I took a huge drop in pay and ended
up not managing my money as well as I ought to have. But it was all new to me –
financial success was nothing I ever really expected nor was ready for. As a
result, I have teetered on bankruptcy for several years and am struggling to
avoid that. I work constantly, and while I do make very decent money, it comes
in chunks with no discernable schedule. This doesn’t help me keep great
relations with my creditors, but hopefully this will all settle down as time
Q: Molly, thank you again for your time,
and consideration in doing this interview.
A: Thank you Stephen! It’s been my