Universal syntax for Markdown

Michel Fortin michel.fortin at michelf.com
Sun Aug 14 07:24:01 EDT 2011

Le 2011-08-14 à 5:08, Florian Sperlich a écrit :

> My basic thought is about a general syntax. The things behind the

> scenes for exporting to different formats are the one thing (although

> it's nice to export to LaTeX, PDF,...). But what is more important in

> my opinion is a uniform standard for the syntax that includes

> footnotes, tables, definition lists, metadata, citations, images,...

I'd certainly not put metadata in a Markdown standard. I never felt like this feature belongs in Markdown at all, and I think Waylan has just put the decisive argument: what if in your metadata you want to specify a text format other than Markdown for the text body? It won't work. Localization of "standard" metadata keys is also an issue.

I know it's tempting to have one tool to do it all, but you can still built that do-it-all tool by calling Markdown for parsing the body of the document as needed. And that tool will have more power because it's not limited to Markdown.

> Of course, there are people who will never use footnotes or tables.

> But who doesn't use it, doesn't have to learn it. It doesn't make the

> standard-syntax more complicated or texts with only the

> standard-syntax more confusing. But those people that need these

> things (e.g. students, lecturers, scientists,...) can use these

> things.

That's true only to a degree. If for instance you put add features so users can write however-they-want complex tables, they're going to be part of the table syntax, and users reading the table syntax will have much more to decipher. Of course you can write a dumbed down syntax specification for those users, but this has consequences too. Knowing that you know the complete Markdown syntax makes you comfortable; knowing there's many things you don't know about the syntax makes you more cautious.

Compare Microsoft WordPad to Microsoft Word, or TextEdit to Pages in Apple's land: one of them is more intimidating than the other, for good reasons, even if at their core they are the same. Less is more, at least it is until you need more.

So I think the more features we add, the more intimidating Markdown becomes to the new users. What should we do, I'm not sure actually.

> And I think a standardized syntax for all these things (and that there

> are not different versions of Markdown) is very important - standards

> are always important, because so everybody can use the syntax on any

> other system that uses Markdown. And (maybe even more important)

> everybody can read and edit the documents of others.

Yes, that's the important point of standardization. Even if the feature set between implementation isn't the same, standardizing features so that each implemented feature work the same between implementations is probably what's most important. But standardizing even the most basic feature is likely break backward-compatibility for many people, so how can it be done?

Michel Fortin
michel.fortin at michelf.com

More information about the Markdown-Discuss mailing list