Markdown: not as bad as it could be

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My first experience with Markdown was on ServerFault, where the markup language for posting is Markdown. The SF community is kind of down on Markdown, which is plain to see by the tags on the main chat-room.


The tags have been in the same theme for a couple of years now.

And yet, Markdown is getting lots of love in non-Sysadmin spaces. Github's documentation format is Markdown. MovableType, what I use for a blog-engine, has a Markdown plugin. Heck, there is a move in the indy publishing world to only accept manuscripts in Markdown, throwing over the previous standard of MS Word.

Why is Markdown getting the love?

Markdown is a syntax for specifying text formatting using just text. It is far, far, far from the first such format to attempt this. And yet, love. My theory is that it's winning for two main reasons:

  1. The syntax doesn't bother with the shift-key as much as other formats (unlike HTML), which makes it easier to produce.
  2. The marked-up text is comprehensible all by itself to non-fluent readers (unlike LaTeX).

Why is Markdown earning the hate?

There are a couple of reasons for this.

  1. It is far, far, far from the first such format to attempt this, and reinventing the wheel just to invent something gets old. The other stuff worked just fine, by the way, we don't need yet another markup language. Oh wait.
  2. Each implementation seems to be subtly different, so you can't always be certain if one markup format will completely render through another engine.

My View

I can see why manuscripts would benefit from Markdown. It's a format that is very simple and very light in formatting (tables are deeply problematical to render, but bolding, italics, quotes, and indents need to be perfect), and the same Markdown file can be used to render the reader-copy as well as the typeset copy by adjusting the defaults for how to render paragraph breaks for instance.

Overall I think it does what it set out to do, and allow rich formatting of text using a relatively easy to access markup method. I can accomplish the same kind of thing through raw HTML, but marking up for markdown is definitely easier then that. Yes, we've had these kinds of things before, and I'll probably have to learn a new markup language in 10 years time; but that's how the tech industry works.

1 Comment

In fairness, a lot of the SF hate for markdown is the SF chat implementation of it. It breaks in multi-line messages, for example.