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Unraveling the web's story

The Web’s Youngest Teacher

Lissa Explains It All colorful logo

Sometime in the summer of 1999, Alyssa Daniels ran into a bit of problem on her site. With each passing day, it was getting more and more popular. As a consequence, her bandwidth usage exceeded the limits of her hosting plan.

She was getting too much traffic.

Daniels had been writing tutorials about HTML and CSS for a couple of years by then. Her first site consisted of a few explainer pages, which she put up on Geocities. The content was clear and concise, and it wasn’t long before she had gathered a bit of a following. So she got to work on more advanced tutorials, boosting its popularity even more. After a while, Daniels decided that a Geocities site just wasn’t going to cut it anymore, so she moved the site to its very own domain.

Things began to seriously takeoff for Daniels. Her tutorials were straightforward, informative, and fun. Even writing in the early days of the web, Daniels’ content spread pretty far and wide and attracted a whole lot of visitors. That’s when her hosting company stepped in and told her she would need a more expensive plan.

As fate would have it, the site was so popular it was picked up as a story in a local newspaper. That did nothing to quell the traffic of course, but she did meet a writer at the newspaper that had a suggestion. Maybe she should try advertisements. So one by one, Daniels began filling out applications for ads, until finally, one of them gave her a chance. The money started coming in right in the nick of time. With just a couple of ads on her site, Daniels was more than able to pay her monthly bandwidth bill. The site was saved.

I feel like I should mention something. At the time, Daniels was only 13 years old. She was getting half a million visits to her site every month.

The site was called “Lissa Explains It All.” That wasn’t the original name. It was first known by the more on-the-nose name “Lissa’s HTML Help and Web Page Resources for Kids.” But after it started spreading from one end of the web to another, she thought “Lissa Explains It All” fit a little better.

The original layout of the site

Daniels grew up in Celebration, Florida, so it’s really no wonder she had a wild imagination and a creative passion. She was fascinated with the web, and began coding up websites for the first time when she was 11. As a way of remembering things as she put together her first webpages, she started jotting notes down about her process, taking special note of any weird quirks she ran into. She also began connecting with other young web developers that were as excited by the web as she was. Sometimes, Daniels would even exchange ideas with them, sharing the notes she had collected in a temporary link.

Time and time again, she found herself creating temporary links for these notes every time someone wanted to take a look. So she decided to put them up on Geocities. Suddenly, everyone was linking to Daniels site. She begged her parents to buy the cheapest hosting package around so that she could put her site up on a proper domain. Always encouraging, they said yes, and “Lissa Explains It All” officially launched.

In just a couple of short years, “Lissa Explains It All” became an extremely important resource for a lot of budding web developers. The tone was friendly, the information reliable, and the tutorials easy to follow. The main anchor point of her site was an HTML explainer that walked visitors through the structure and process of completing a webpage. But it was also filled to the brim with everything from an in-depth look at the marquee tag to an extremely popular forum.

A section on HTML from Lissa Explains It All

The site was mostly visited by kids and teens trying out the web for the first time and interested in how it all worked. But it wasn’t all kids. The tone of the “Lissa Explains it All” might have naturally fit with that audience, but the knowledge that Daniels shared was universal. It became a focal point in the education of a lot of developers (of all ages) who were happy to find a resource that broke everything down to its basics, and built it back up with clarity and brevity.

It really is a credit to Daniels’ writing that by the time the site was up for a couple of years, it was getting half a million visits every month. Which takes us all the way back to the beginning of this story. It wasn’t just the money that stopped Daniels from buying a more expensive web hosting plan, it was that she was going to have to ask her parents to foot the bill. And ads weren’t immediately an option for her because there weren’t a lot of vendors that would accept a 13 year old’s site.

But eventually, it all worked out. Daniels kept running her site, on and off, over the years. She even turned a profit while she was still in high school. In college, she redesigned the site a bit to give it a simpler, more modern look. Right now, the site is still very much up, but Daniels isn’t really active anymore. Still, she left an active legacy behind her, a cohort of webmasters who learned everything they knew from the web’s youngest teacher, and were better developers for it.