Why I Love Markdown
For about the last two months, I’ve steady been moving toward doing all my writing in Markdown. Truth be told, I’ve been moving that way slowly off and on before that, having been looking for a simple syntax like it for quite some time. I’d spent some time writing in Textile—a number of my posts for Pillar on the Rock were composed with it, and I’ve even used it on this site in the past with a (now-largely defunct and therefore unlinked) plugin. Textile is great in a lot of ways – if you’re looking for a syntax that maps directly to HTML. (In fact, if that’s what you’re looking for, Textile is much better than Markdown.)
Then, over the last six months or so, I’ve been using Markdown here and there. It’s the standard markup language for GitHub and Bitbucket. Especially as I’ve been using the latter more heavily – both for myself and for various projects with my consulting work – increasing my familiarity with Markdown just made sense.
The project itself has been on my radar for a long while. I’ve been a semi-regular reader of Daring Fireball for a year or more, and I’ve also watched with some interest as a number of prominent minimalist writing environments launched with native support for the language – notably iA Writer and Byword. All of this finally persuaded me to sit down and try writing with it. And I loved it.
Like I said, I was familiar with the concept of a markup language of this variety, having written quite a bit in Textile. But what Gruber got right in his design of Markdown is the fact that it works as plain text. (Look here to see the plain text version of this post.) Textile doesn’t. I mean, it reads okay if you know what’s going on, but if you don’t, it’s just ugly. Markdown doesn’t have that problem, which is part of what makes it a great choice for Readme files (which is precisely how both Github and Bitbucket use it): you can read it perfectly well as a plain text file, and it renders to HTML elegantly.
So I started using it. And had lots of bugs with my then-preferred minimalist writing environment. It was annoying. I tested out Byword. And it was all over. My growing interest turned into full-blown addiction. The kind that makes me proselytize; my poor friends had to put up with a week or more of rants about how glorious it is. I nagged at Jaimie until she tried both Markdown and Byword, as well. (She’s addicted, too.)
Markdown is simple enough to learn in a few minutes, clean and elegant enough to be readable no matter your context, and darn near everywhere. Almost every time I see a new app announced, it quietly (or loudly) proclaims its support. It’s becoming the defacto markup language of the Internet, at least among the slightly geekier types who know markup languages. Throw in a tool like Pandoc that lets you convert to just about any other markup you can think of (including, surprisingly enough, docx files for Microsoft Word), and you’re good to go – but you don’t really need even that; there are plenty of good apps for each platform that happily take your Markdown input and generate HTML for you if you like.
I love it. Give it a shot; you probably will too.