We really need to talk about Markdown.

Standardisation, where we are, where we need to be…

Markdown is great, really great. Whether or not you share this opinion doesn’t often hinge on the syntax… but its implementation and more over, its lack of standardisation.

If you’ve ever had to edit knowledge articles on several different platforms it becomes quickly apparent that what you use on Platform A may mostly work on Platform B but there will be caveats. Usually its around the arrangement of header style often I find myself thinking:

Is it four equals signs for a H1 header or just one?

So where are we with standardisation of Markdown. The simple answer is that we are no closer to a syntax unification of Markdown than when it was created.

Wikipedia’s entry for Markdown will tell you:

The Markdown language was created in 2004 by John Gruber with substantial contributions from Aaron Swartz,[5] with the goal of allowing people “to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, and optionally convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML)”

The important thing to take away from this is that its creators developed the syntax to be both easy to read AND write. While you may be a fan of a particular platform or implementation of Markdown, your markdown code won’t necessarily be functional on another system.

Markdown was developed nine years ago (March, 2004), with its latest development being only a short nine months after the initial release (December, 2004). Since then there have been hundreds of implementations of Markdown though I’m yet to see an implementation that conforms to another.

As a user of multiple platforms each with their particular flavor of markdown I constantly find myself needing to re-edit documents in various systems because I’ll have used a slightly different syntax that the particular implementation requires… and it sucks.

Some require preceding and trailing characters for formatting, some only preceding characters, hell I’ve seen implementations where an exclamation or at-sign needed to be added to each line containing markdown elements let alone those versions that need curly braces to create formatting relevance.

In the spirit of what John and Aaron were trying to produce it is high time that we created a ‘Markdown Consortium’ to tackle the problem of multiple, spurious versions of Markdown syntax to get us back to the single root of its development.

easy-to-read, easy-to-write

Why hasn’t this happened before? Because currently everyone has their favorite flavor of Markdown or thought they could extend on the syntax to make it better. Now, with the blogging world being attracted to simple tools designed to publish posts written in Markdown, we are seeing once again a fragmentation which only serves to frustrate users, developers and designers alike.

If we had a singular, robust, well-defined standard then content would be much more portable. No longer would we spend hours sieving content through an interpreter to convert one particular form of the syntax to another just to post clean content to an alternative platform.

So here it is, the call to arms if you like. I propose we create a standard, something to stand by, something to create singularity in the Markdown syntax so content portability can be achieved with minimal fuss.

Who’s with me?

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