She goes by many names: Web Woman, Digital Diva and -- at least unofficially -- the Cookie Maven of Montgomery County.
Yesterday, longtime friends of Robin Olson gathered at her Gaithersburg home for their annual Holiday Cookie Exchange. Despite the abundance of sweet treats, Olson, 40, made it clear that her life story is more about bytes than bites.
"You can't just take me and pin me in a corner and call me a cookie person," Olson said.
Indeed, it was Olson's holiday tradition of swapping cookies that landed her on the Food Network recently, but it was her legendary home Web page (www.Robinsweb.com) that got the attention of the TV folks first.
The site mixes the wholesome spirit of "It's a Wonderful Life" -- Olson's favorite movie, by the way -- with the inspiration of films such as "The Truman Show" and "Ed TV," tales about individuals whose lives are on television 24 hours a day.
"My whole life is online," Olson explained. There are no cameras showing her every move, but everything you could ever want to know about Olson -- news about her family, her pets, her friends, her loves, her interests -- is available at the site.
Although personal home pages are not that unusual, the success of Robinsweb is.
"It just literally became an overnight hit. . . . I've had more than a million visitors," Olson said.
At the heart of Olson's story is the tale of a self-proclaimed stay-at-home mom who, despite never having taking a college course in programming or any college course, for that matter, turned out to be some sort of cyber savant.
Although she always had an eye for design -- she did take some advanced courses in that subject, and her parents were artistic as well -- she took to computers instantly.
"When I was nine months pregnant with my third child, my brother built me a home computer, and I said, `Oh, this is my life . . . ' I just fell in love with online technology."
That was in 1992, and Olson said she decided "to build the mother of all home pages."
Why did she find a need to reach out from her Gaithersburg home to the world?
"I think it gives her a sense of accomplishment," said her husband, Kim, owner of an insurance company. "And it allows her to create her own . . . empire, if you will."
And that empire is not about profit, but escape.
"You have a thought, and somebody on the other side of the world tells me what they think about it," Olson said.
Indeed, in an age of computer whizzes who make millions with IPOs, here's the story of one who's out to make a million friends with some TLC.
Although Olson's Web site is a multimedia marvel -- thousands of pages lit up with eye-catching designs -- its real appeal is a certain down-home charm, the cyberspace equivalent of one of the sticky notes left on the refrigerator by your mom: telling you to do your chores, and signed with love.
"I don't pander to the masses," she said. "I only put on things that are important to me."
And that's where the cookies come in. She posts the recipes online and invites others to do the same. But her Web site also includes her favorite poems and prayers; pictures of her husband and children (David, 16; Stephanie, 14; and Sean, 7) and her cat and dog; a list of famous people she has encountered in her life, such as Elliott Gould inside "an elevator at the Deauville Hotel, Miami Beach, 1970. I was 11 years old."
She lists her favorite foods: "A high quality, medium rare hamburger (I don't like cheeseburgers) with ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions."
And her favorite reading: "Anything Inspirational & Humor oriented."
And then there are her favorite group activities, such as "Playing Bingo and Keno. Dancing, watching friends do Karaoke. Going to Rockin' Bowl with my husband and friends on Saturday nights."
There's more, like her favorite singers -- everyone from Elton John and Neil Young to, because of her kids, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Smashmouth. Her favorite sayings, including: "Lead, Follow, or the get the hell out of the way." And a page titled "An Eternal Flame in the Memory of Family Friends," in which she lists deceased friends and gives a tribute to each.
The result of all this? What's important to Olson apparently is important to others.
Olson has written on her Web site: "This site has been seen by more than 250,000 visitors, with total page accesses in the millions. More than 1500 people from 36 countries have signed one of my three guestbooks and another 3000+ have filled out my polls or submitted jokes, recipes, their favorite quotes, their marriage tips, their 60's or 70's memories, etcetera."
In July, somebody from the Food Network clicked into Robinsweb and soon she was on TV. Yesterday, she handed out videos of her segment to friends, along with cookies, of course.
"It's just a flunky fluke that it's my cookie page that's bringing in all the attention," she said.
No one really calls her the Cookie Maven, though her segment is scheduled to be rerun on Food TV again at 10 p.m. today, Tuesday at 1 a.m. and Friday at 7 p.m.
And fame is not what Robinsweb is all about, according to Olson.
"I share with the world and I get back ten-thousandfold more."