A Tribute to Molly

September 10, 2023

This is how I remember Molly from the early 2000s with that long wavy hair.

I found out on Wednesday morning that Molly E. Holzschlag had died on Tuesday. I was looking through my X feed while waiting for my Walmart pick-up when I came across Dan‘s post. It seemed appropriate that I would find out on Twitter since most of what I knew about Molly was from things those that I followed wrote about or retweeted from her on that platform.

Molly was one of the pioneers in the Web industry. She was an early blogger, passing along what she had learned through her site molly.com. She was heavily involved in the Web Standards movement and from what I had read, encouraged many other designers and developers to share their voice in the industry.

I never personally met Molly. I never read her blog (as best as I can remember). I never read any of her Web design books. I did read a book that she that she co-authored with Dave Shea, The Zen of CSS Design. I did hear her speak once alongside Eric Meyer at the UI 10 conference in Boston (2005). They did a one-hour seminar that I am sure had to do with CSS and semantic code.

I am sure that I heard her on a podcast somewhere along the way and maybe heard one of her conference talks back in the day when conferences would post MP3 files of talks and I would listen to them on my iPod (which I got from the UI 10 or UI 12 conference) on my commute to work.

What I do remember about Molly is that she had a lot of energy and she was very enthusiastic. She was very enthusiastic about the Web and making sure that everyone could use it. And she was committed to helping others be successful in their work on the Web through her writing, her speaking, and the personal encounters where she encouraged so many.

Most of what I know about Molly is through others. I remember recently hearing (or reading) a story about how she challenged Bill Gates on Microsoft’s commitment to Web standards. Molly had laid the foundation of this cooperation with Microsoft after she began meeting with developers on the Internet Explorer team and building bridges.

Molly was a “tireless advocate for a kinder, more accessible, more open web”, according to Jeffrey Zeldman. “She was steadfast in her insistence that the World Wide Web be usable by disabled people, including sites being able to be parsed by screenreader technology for people with impaired vision.”1

Though I am not aware of the direct ways that Molly influenced my practice or career, I know that she has had an impact indirectly through her leadership in the Web Standards Project (WaSP), her involvement in the CSS Working Group, and other W3C working groups.

I know that she had an impact on Aaron Gustafson as a mentor. I worked for Aaron earlier in my career so I am sure her influence came indirectly through that relationship. I had the privilege of working on the Web Standards Sherpas site when I was part of Aaron’s studio. The site provided web professionals the opportunity to receive feedback, glean advice, and learn best practices from experts in the field to help them improve the quality of their own work, something that Molly spent a lot of time in her career doing.

And I am sure that her life and her work impacted mine through the many other people that I followed, read, or heard speak over the years who had been directly inspired and empowered by Molly.

“Molly paved the way for web standards evangelists to follow, speaking eloquently about how we should perform our craft but also why we should follow these emerging best practices.”

Rachel Andrew, Why are we not still using tables-for-layout?

I was sad to hear that Molly was gone, though I know she had many health challenges in the last ten years. She played such an important role in this industry that I have been part of for over twenty years. I am grateful for all of Molly’s hard work, dedication, and enthusiasm.

One other thing that I remember about Molly. On April 9, 2015, Molly proclaimed “Unsung Heroes of the Web Day” (#HonoringWebFolk) on Twitter. She wanted people to honor a friend or colleague for their contributions. I took it as an opportunity to go beyond my friends and colleagues. I honored many who spoke at conferences, wrote articles on their sites, or created communities for designers and developers. This was such a Molly thing. To support and encourage her fellow Web practitioners.

Goodbye, Molly. Thank you so much.

1 Tucson’s Molly Holzschlag, known as ‘the fairy godmother of the web,’ dead at 60, September 6, 2023, The Sentinel, Tuscon, AZ

Tributes and other links of interest about Molly

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