Universal syntax for Markdown

Florian Sperlich flo.sperlich at googlemail.com
Sun Aug 14 08:50:24 EDT 2011

2011/8/14 Michel Fortin <michel.fortin at michelf.com>:

> 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.


Of couse Markdown shouldn't support every little sophisticated
feature, that some people want. To stay at the example of tables:
line-styles, double-lines, and so on shouldn't be part of Markdown.
Only normal lines. But if I take a look at MultiMarkdown, this has
basic support for tables, that don't give you every little
design-feature, but enough to share information, that needs to
presented in tables. That would be enough to me. Markdown is no
design-language, but a (lightweight) markup-language. So you e.g.
don't need line-styles at tables, but it should be possible to make
simple tables, because some information needs that representation.

Your other point is true (a little bit in my opinion): if somebody
only learns the basic features, because he/she doesn't use the
advanced features, he has to face these other syntax if he sees
another Markdown-document that uses this syntax and isn't rendered to
HTML, PDF, or whatever else.

1. even the advanced syntax isn't hard to read. E.g. (again I stay at
the example of tables): maybe the reader doesn't know why there are
two | at the end of a combined cell, but he can read what is in the
cells and he sees it is a table. He can edit the rest of the document
and even the text in the cells.

2. and beyond that, there is another important point: to say somebody
may not use an important feature like tables, so that everybody can
read every document wouldn't be very good. That reminds me a bit of
something, another person said to me some months ago. This person said
"Most people speak english. Why do people still publish in other
languages on the internet." But I know dozens of reasons for that.
Should people are prevented from publishing information only because
somebody else maybe can't read it? My opinion is: the author should
know what he uses and what syntax the others that work on a document
know. Otherwise we also have to ban # for headlines, because there are
certainly people who don't know that is a headline.

What is the other way? Leaving information that needs a table?

There are some elements of texts, that many people need. E.g. tables,
footnotes, citations, images, definition lists... In my opinion why
shouldn't say other people what kind of texts they are allowed to
write and what other not. Maybe a scientist who uses footnotes, knows
that everybody in his workgroup knows about how to use footnotes. And
if somebody else reads his document I think the use of footnotes and
tables is the slightest problem. ;)

And maybe you even don't want to share your Markdown-document with
others or collaborate on a text. Maybe you just want to publish it in
your blog, print it out, make a PDF of it, and so on. In this case you
can use what you want without questioning who knows this syntax,
because they only see the rendered document.

Of course all this advanced syntax only should support basic things
you really need for texts and no sophisticated design-extras. E.g. you
need tables for representing some information, but you don't really
need different line-styles. And of course this advanced syntax should
be kept as clear as possible. E.g. like the tables in MultiMarkdown:
even if I don't know how to make tables yet, I see it is a table. And
even if I don't know every detail, I can read and edit the text in the
cells. And the rest of the document anyhow.

I still have other things in mind, why advanced syntax should be
standard and why this is no problem for less advanced users, but my
english isn't that good and I think I've written enough.

Of course there is one point remaining:
MultiMarkdows has most of the things that are useful. Why not let it
in today's way: some people use Markdown, other MultiMarkdown, others
Markdown Extra or whatever Markdown-version else. But that's the
question of standards again. It's very confusing (esp. to new users)
what version of Markdown you use and what special syntax is possible
or isn't possible.

I hope, it's clear what I mean, my english wasn't too bad and my
posting wasn't too long.
But I really think one standard-markdown with the extended syntax of
MultiMarkdown would be a big win for Markdown and could spread it to
more people and convince them, that for many purposes lightweight
markup is the better way to write a text, a webpage, a blog,...

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