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Matt Haughey

Matt Haughey is one of the most elegant designers on the web.
He is also the creator of Metafilter.

About you

What did you do before the Web?

Before the web, I was a college student finishing my degree in Environmental Science. By the time the web got on my radar, in early 1995, I was just finishing up and starting a masters degree in the same program. I distinctly remember sitting at home in December of 1995, after I finished my first quarter's exams and thinking I should quit grad school, and try this web thing out, because it seemed like it was really going somewhere. I starting publishing my first pages a few days later.

Two years later when I was done with the masters and working as a web designer, I remember wondering if I made the right choice, but the choice was made, and I learned a lot about budgeting, critical thinking, and writing that has come in handy when doing web work, so I have no regrets about it.

How did you find the web?

My very first web experience was in the student computer labs, in spring of 1995. I didn't own my own computer at the time, and relied on the 486's running win 3.1 in the student lab. While waiting for a print job to finish from Word, I saw a little world icon with two arrows in the program manager. I launched it and messed around with this application called Mosaic. I didn't know how to get around beyond clicking, so I was stuck on the directory page at NCSA that loaded up with it. I remember running it a few more times after that, whenever I was in the labs. I also started playing with Mosaic Communication's Netscape 0.9 in the labs I was doing environmental work. It seemed fun and informative, but it didn't quite click with me.

It wasn't until probably June of 1995 that a friend with dialup account took me aside and showed me specifically why it was worth the hype. We ran through his daily bookmarks and surfed away from there (remember when all you did on the web was randomly surf?). In the span of a few minutes we saw Calvin and Hobbes comics at some fan sites, read the previous night's Top Ten list from the Letterman Show, checked sports scores and read some news. I was hooked, and amazed at the breadth of information that was available. It was truly the world's library that I had been hearing about for years, but I had no idea was it fun until that moment.

Why are you here?

In many ways, I'm on the web today trying to capture that feeling of amazement seven years ago. I program sites and create designs to attempt to make something new, something that looks great and functions better than anything people have experienced.

And I'm here to have fun doing it.

Methods of production

What do you use to create your sites?

In terms of tools, I only need two core apps to do everything I do. Macromedia's Homesite and Adobe's Photoshop pretty much cover 99% of my needs in terms of web design and programming. I've been using both on a daily basis for years now and can work like mad in them.

Nothing frustrates me more when doing web work than being slowed down by other software or old versions of these apps. These two do almost everything perfectly, and I can work as fast as I can think of ideas. It's what prevents me from doing any work on my powerbook, since BBEdit makes for much longer development time personally.

About the Web

What do you see as the greatest strengths of the web?

There are several major strengths. It's wonderfully convenient for numerous industries and menial tasks we used to have to do by hand, or in person. I love that I can buy books and plane tickets at any hour of the night without having to talk to anyone or coordinate with their schedules. I love renewing city permits and the like via web interfaces, and being able to check the weather, my bank account, and my bills instantly, from anywhere on earth.

I love the democratization that the medium affords. Try as they might, major corporations will never turn the web into television, since anyone can become a creator and say anything they want. I know the vast majority of web users are merely readers, but I hope with things like blogs, they can see that becoming a writer and an editor is just as easy as reading, and the world benefits from everyone's voice and contribution to our culture.

What do you see as the greatest dangers?

Given that the web was built on unlimited freedoms for all, the greatest dangers seem to lie in all aspects of control. There are numerous groups trying to control what you can see, say, or hear online, controlling who can get online, and where they can go. The price of liberty is eternal vigilance and anyone that enjoys the web should become aware of those trying to control it, and fighting against those that do. I hope the free market determines that the best internet experience is an unfettered line, though tens of millions of Americans seem to prefer to use AOL's stunted view of the internet as their access point.

What would you say to folks who want to work the web?

Get out there and practice, practice, practice.

You can learn best by simply doing, so bust out a demo copy of paint shop pro (like I did five years ago), and a free text editor and go to town. Write stories, post photos, keep a journal, and make a portfolio of your best stuff.

Write everyday. Write about your thoughts, your hopes and your dreams.

When you can make the time, crank the music up, open your paint program to a blank canvas and throw paint at the fucking thing over and over, until something good sticks.

Tomorrow when you wake up, do all these things again.

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Matt Haughey
Matt Haughey

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