Markup Markdown Mark It All Around October 16, 2012 9:30 AM   Subscribe

I know that similar topics have been brought up in the past, but how about supporting Markdown on Metafilter?

Markdown's recently gotten pretty popular, and seems on track to becoming a standard for formatting short bits of web content (like comments and FPPs!).

Obviously, we wouldn't be able to support the whole language, but wouldn't it be nicer to be able to, say create a numbered list by doing:
1. One
2. Two
3. Three
Instead of:
<ol>
<li>One</li>
<li>Two</li>
<li>Three</li>
</ol>
Make things **bold** and _italic_ instead of <b>bold</b> and <i>italic</i>?

Or make links that are pretty instead of ugly:
I'm a [good][1] link!
[1]: http://www.cat-scan.com

I'm an <a href="http://dilbert.com/">ugly</a> link!
Blockquotes and code/monospaced snippets are also a lot less verbose
> Markdown Blockquote!
<blockquote>HTML Blockquote</blockquote>

`Markdown Code Snippet!`
<code>HTML Code Snippet</code>
I know that these things have been shot down in the past, but I really do think that it will make it easier for us to compose nicely-formatted comments. Also, Markdown's gained a lot of traction and ubiquity since this was last officially discussed in 2007.
posted by schmod to Feature Requests at 9:30 AM (121 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

Oh my god, Markdown would be so awesome to have.
posted by Sokka shot first at 9:33 AM on October 16, 2012


I recognize that this could be difficult to implement. That said, I do find Markdown intuitive and enjoyable to use.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:33 AM on October 16, 2012


Or make links that are pretty instead of ugly:

I find it incredibly irritating when forums use some special syntax instead of html. Would this break using standard html?
posted by Jahaza at 9:39 AM on October 16, 2012 [41 favorites]


And actually I'm with Jahaza - I like Markdown sometimes, but HTML should still be the default.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:40 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon but I already know the little bits of HTML necessary to format comments in MetaFilter, and I don't see why I should have to learn a different, less-universal markup language just to do what I already know how to do. I also don't see how HTML is that difficult to use.

Also I think that the current situation is more in line with the overall MetaFilter design philosophy of simplicity and transparency, though I can't quite express why I feel like that.
posted by Scientist at 9:41 AM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Our take on this is still "not gonna happen"—if you check comments on a Metatalk search you can see that it's come up now and then since 2007 and that's been the consistent response.

I know some people are super comfortable with and/or fond of Markdown, and I have no beef against it as a system in its own right, but what we're talking about here is going from an established formatting culture for this specific site to either a wholly different formatting regime (super jarring for everyone accustomed to our HTML approach) or a hybrid system (potentially less jarring but likely far more complicated to implement and creating a sort of monster of a special case).

So the argument is not that Markdown doesn't have its merits, it's that the context of this proposed change is very, very different and more problematic than e.g. starting a new site and electing Markdown as the formatting system of choice.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:43 AM on October 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Your favorite markup language sucks.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:49 AM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is there a script that would make your text box work like this?

(More curious about it than something I would actually use.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another problem with Markdown is why the hell is _underscore_ used for italic and not, oh, I don't know, UNDERLINE. Or is that just me?
posted by maryr at 9:50 AM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


A radio button in the preferences page would be sufficient hybridization, I think... markdown is a lot more convenient for touch-screen keyboards.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:53 AM on October 16, 2012


Markdown markup shot down.
posted by Kabanos at 9:54 AM on October 16, 2012 [12 favorites]


To be clear: I wouldn't want HTML to go away, and I'd want Markdown to be an opt-in feature.

And, yes. Markdown supports inline HTML. You can mix markdown and HTML freely.

It's also pretty smart about escaping HTML entities, which is especially handy in code blocks, which means no more writing &lt;i&gt;ridiculous-looking&lt;/i&gt; escape sequences in comments when you want to talk about HTML code without actually rendering that markup.
posted by schmod at 9:54 AM on October 16, 2012


A radio button in the preferences page would be sufficient hybridization, I think... markdown is a lot more convenient for touch-screen keyboards.

This presumes that there's no back-end ramifications to introducing an alternate markup scheme into the system. I can assure that presumption is incorrect.
posted by cortex (staff) at 9:56 AM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have never liked markdown, don't really see how it saves time since I have to memorize a whole bunch of unintuitive shit, and prefer to just write HTML since that's what it's going to end up anyway.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 9:56 AM on October 16, 2012 [19 favorites]


"**bold** and _italic_ instead of bold and italic?

How is this better? Seems more like an encumberance to me.
posted by marienbad at 9:59 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


maryr: "Another problem with Markdown is why the hell is _underscore_ used for italic and not, oh, I don't know, UNDERLINE. Or is that just me?"

I believe that the _italic_ syntax is actually pretty old, and a remnant of the days of text-only Usenet and non-WYSIWIG word-processing. Wikipedia does indeed state that it's sometimes used as an underline modifier instead of italics.

Gruber presumably decided that it was better for Markdown to translate underscores to italics, because you rarely ever want to underline things on the web. It's semantically confusing, given that underlined text typically indicates a hyperlink (or, these days, a tooltip).

I agree that BBCode and many other languages that were intended to brush aside HTML's ugliness were just as ugly and unintuitive as HTML was. However, after using Markdown on Github and StackOverflow fairly regularly for a few months, I find it to be considerably easier to write than HTML. It also makes it much easier to proofread comments.

Also, I may just hate HTML because all of the control characters are on the right-hand side of the keyboard, which sucks for lefties like me. Those carets are just really awkward to reach for.
posted by schmod at 10:02 AM on October 16, 2012


A radio button in the preferences page would be sufficient hybridization, I think... markdown is a lot more convenient for touch-screen keyboards

Not being familiar with markdown, I'm not sure how universally true the latter part of this comment is. I am, however, interested in what the mods/devs opinions are regarding changing UI elements to accommodate/enable mobile users. This is an interesting problem going forward, if we assume an increase in the use of mobile platforms.
posted by gorbichov at 10:03 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


marienbad: "How is this better? Seems more like an encumberance to me."

I'll stop threadsitting, but I think it's better because it requires 1/3 as many keystrokes to italicize something (2/5 if you count the shift key), and doesn't disrupt the flow of the text while you're (re)reading the source code.
posted by schmod at 10:04 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd _love_ Markdown support here, but only because I use it everywhere else - for the amount of formatting most folk do when commenting here, it's probably overkill (and would cause huge problems when people unaware of Markdown found their comments formatted in ways they never intended).

Another problem with Markdown is why the hell is _underscore_ used for italic and not, oh, I don't know, UNDERLINE. Or is that just me?

How do you propose underlining text in a plain text file? One way would be to come up with some sort of basic markup syntax and a means of converting the source text into a format that supports underlining ;-)
posted by jack_mo at 10:07 AM on October 16, 2012


I may just hate HTML because all of the control characters are on the right-hand side of the keyboard, which sucks for lefties like me. Those carets are just really awkward to reach for.

Switch to Dvorak. Carets are upper left.
posted by rocketman at 10:08 AM on October 16, 2012


Tell Me No Lies: "Your favorite markup language sucks."
eat flaming SGML death, heretic scum.
posted by boo_radley at 10:09 AM on October 16, 2012


Textile has the same _italic_ convention and I find it very convenient. My belief is that it is a holdover from the typewritten manuscript convention in which italic text was indicated by underlining.
posted by gauche at 10:13 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd guess (based on no factual evidence that I can cite) that underscores-indicate-italic are a carryover from the days of typewriters, when it was understood that something that was underlined in typewritten text would be in italics if typeset. Come to think of it, that was the rule they taught us in elementary school/jr. high ("underline the title of a book when you write it out; titles are italicized when printed in a book or elsewhere"), so it might go back farther than that.
posted by Lexica at 10:15 AM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


On lack-of-preview, gauche beats me to it.
posted by Lexica at 10:16 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


This greasemonkey script may come in handy for markdown aficionados. I haven't used it myself, so caveat downloador.
posted by Jpfed at 10:16 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am, however, interested in what the mods/devs opinions are regarding changing UI elements to accommodate/enable mobile users.

For mobile users we have a different HTML shortcut menu that includes the <, /, and > characters in addition to the bold, italic, and link shortcuts. So we have made changes to try to help mobile users write HTML.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:17 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd love .docx import. Compose offline and upload the comment to be coverted to latex.

Oh yeah, latex support too.

Also proper change tracking for FTFY comments.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:18 AM on October 16, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have never liked markdown, don't really see how it saves time since I have to memorize a whole bunch of unintuitive shit, and prefer to just write HTML since that's what it's going to end up anyway.

'Memorizing a whole bunch of unintuitive shit' is pretty much how I'd describe learning html.
posted by zarq at 10:23 AM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


I haven't tried it yet, but if you're on an iPhone and want to turn Markdown into HTML you might look at Marked. In theory you could write your comment in Markdown there, and then paste into the comment form here.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:28 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


oh, I just realized that's a Mac app not an iPhone app. Sorry about that.
posted by pb (staff) at 10:29 AM on October 16, 2012


Okay, so, obviously this isn't going to happen, and that's fine, but let's not pretend that HTML being the only formatting option is anything like optimally usable or intuitive. To italicize a word in HTML I have to type nine extra characters. In Markdown, it takes two.

Secondly, the stock Markdown implementation ignores inline HTML, so it would be completely transparent from the perspective of anyone who doesn't want to use it. People would go on using longhand tags and nobody who didn't want to use Markdown would even have to know that it existed.

I think what Markdown or or something similar would have resulted in a lower rate of HTML/display errors, but now we have the edit window, so that's less of an issue. It's very much a nice-to-have level feature, and we're not gonna get it, no big deal.

Clearly implementing something like this would be enough of a pain in the ass that it's not worth the gain in usability for what would surely be a small fraction of the userbase. But it would be a gain in usability, especially for mobile users.
posted by Sokka shot first at 10:37 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Part of my problem with Markdown, from what I gather, is how would I make something look like *this*? Or like _this_?

Not a huge problem, mind you.

the second one might be handy if we're talking about, say coding in Python.
posted by Lemurrhea at 10:42 AM on October 16, 2012


I also don't see how HTML is that difficult to use.

Even Gruber acknowledges HTML is perfectly easy to write and offers Markdown simply as an alternative for reading.

If your post is so lengthy to read that Markdown would be important in being able to make sense of it, you might seriously consider a shorter post.
posted by Egg Shen at 10:49 AM on October 16, 2012


I already know HTML, and I already know BBCode, and I don't feel like learning yet another markup language thank you very much.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:49 AM on October 16, 2012


FWIW, I always favored /this/ for italics and _this_ for underline (and *this* for bold) in places like IRC or Usenet.
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 10:49 AM on October 16, 2012 [7 favorites]


Tell Me No Lies: "Your favorite markup language sucks."
eat flaming SGML death, heretic scum.


nroff! nroff! nroff!
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:51 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, latex support too.

MathML grumble, grumble
posted by bonehead at 10:52 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Part of my problem with Markdown, from what I gather, is how would I make something look like *this*? Or like _this_?

like \***this**\* and like \__this_\_ (more generally, you can use the \ character to say "just use this character literally rather than interpreting it with its special meaning").
posted by Jpfed at 11:03 AM on October 16, 2012


To italicize a word in HTML, one could also highlight the word and then use ctrl-I. FYI.
posted by maryr at 11:03 AM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


let's not pretend that HTML being the only formatting option is anything like optimally usable or intuitive.

No one is pretending that. However, there are two important factors

1. This site has used what it uses for almost thirteen years and there are still challenges for some users with it
2. Words like "optimal" and "intiutive" are serious judgment calls that people have been fighting about since there have been computers.

I get that people have preferences, but so much of what is and is not intuitive has to do with what you're familiar with and what you've used in the past and what you use now. Markdown is very very familiar to some people and complete martian to others and we have no plans to implement it here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:05 AM on October 16, 2012 [5 favorites]


To italicize a word in HTML I have to type nine extra characters.

You say that like it's a thing. It ain't no thang. Nine extra characters, especially a tag so well-remembered in the bones of my fingers, is like a microsecond and half a bit of brainpower, if that. Nothing.
posted by carsonb at 11:11 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


My lawn is best viewed in cuneiform.
posted by arcticseal at 11:12 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never go complete martian.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:12 AM on October 16, 2012


To italicize a word in HTML, one could also highlight the word and then use ctrl-I. FYI.
posted by maryr at 12:03 on October 16 [+] [!]


Look Marge, I just tripled my productivity. Mind blown, thanks maryr!
posted by arcticseal at 11:13 AM on October 16, 2012


Part of my problem with Markdown, from what I gather, is how would I make something look like *this*? Or like _this_?

like \***this**\* and like \__this_\_ (more generally, you can use the \ character to say "just use this character literally rather than interpreting it with its special meaning").


Hmm, interesting. Thanks! I figured there'd be an escape character, never really looked into it. Of course, that code is longer and (to me) more confusing than the equivalent html, which doesn't surprise me - it's good for smaller things but as you get complex html's power shines.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:13 AM on October 16, 2012


I don't see any reason why it needs to be implemented as the default, but I'd love if it were an option I could set.
posted by empath at 11:18 AM on October 16, 2012


Lemurrhea, you run into the same problem if you want to include brackets in your text with HTML.
posted by empath at 11:19 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


so ... http://markdown.metafilter.com ?
posted by tilde at 11:41 AM on October 16, 2012


I like some of the features of markdown for non-HTML people, but don't really find the link syntax any better than HTML. It's not prettier to me or anything.
posted by smackfu at 11:45 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just learned (some) HTML so I vote HELL NO :-)
posted by 1000monkeys at 11:51 AM on October 16, 2012


To italicize a word in HTML I have to type nine extra characters

Are we using the same HTML? <i></i> is seven characters (and if you include shift, then __ is 4 characters)...


Also I am amazed sometimes that despite spending so much time both reading and developing for the web I can have literally never heard of something that is supposedly popular (where is this markdown stuff actually used?).
posted by wildcrdj at 12:09 PM on October 16, 2012


Lemurrhea: "Of course, that code is longer and (to me) more confusing than the equivalent html, which doesn't surprise me - it's good for smaller things but as you get complex html's power shines."

It's pretty standard to use the backslash as an escape character (followed by the character that you want to treat as text). HTML is the only language that I can think of with such a complicated and verbose system for character entities.
posted by schmod at 12:09 PM on October 16, 2012


(where is this markdown stuff actually used?).

Reddit and Stack Overflow are two biggies.
posted by smackfu at 12:19 PM on October 16, 2012


> I already know HTML, and I already know BBCode, and I don't feel like learning yet another markup language thank you very much.

I couldn't have said it better.

> Reddit and Stack Overflow are two biggies.

Stop trying to Redditize MetaFilter!
posted by languagehat at 12:22 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is that what Reddit uses? Good to know. How I f'ing hate typing URLs over there. Down Markdown! Up markup!
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 12:29 PM on October 16, 2012


Note that HTML is allowed within Markdown, so even if MetaFilter did switch to Markdown, you could keep using <a href="blah"> and <small> and whatever, without any changes to how you use them now.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:46 PM on October 16, 2012


The real problem is textarea sucks. Maybe add ACE support.
posted by Ad hominem at 12:47 PM on October 16, 2012


(where is this markdown stuff actually used?)

Reddit and Stack Overflow are two biggies.

Tumblr too, as an option. And Wordpress via plugins. Posterous as well, the list goes on.

It's a pretty standard thing to have available for people who want to do a bit more than plain text, but requiring html would be overkill, or most users wouldn't know html.

One advantage is that what you write is readable to you. You're less likely to miss that you didn't close a tag and such. Another, as mentioned upthread, is that you can mix it freely with html is you so choose.

I'm not sure it would add a lot to Mefi though where people stick with plain text mostly, and the comment entry box gives a bit of assistance of bold, italic and links.

If it were available I might use it to structure my longer comments with numbered lists or subheadings. I know full well how to do that in HTML, but I don't bother it's too much effort for the small value it would add.

Anyway, with a moment's googling I found a web tool that seems to do a nice job of converting between various markup languages, including from Markdown to HTML. Check it out here: Try Pandoc.
posted by philipy at 12:51 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's no reason why implementing/allowing Markdown's syntax would prohibit the current HTML-based markup.

In fact that's one of the key advantages of Markdown: it doesn't prohibit you from just writing HTML directly... because it's not HTMLesque, you can run the input through a Markdown parser, and then run it through your usual HTML parser/sanitizer, without any changes to the latter. It just goes in front of whatever exists today.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:58 PM on October 16, 2012


Gruber presumably decided...

picks jaw up off keyboard

Okay, my respect for him has simultaneously gone way up and way down. Wow, he actually, you know, did something. But what a thing. Yech.
posted by alms at 1:00 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is a very important point:

Metafilter is performing a public service by requiring everyone who participates to learn HTML. All users of Metafilter have their life skills enhanced by knowing at least some rudimentary HTML.

Learning Markdown? Meh. But HTML? Now, that's something you can put on your resume (at least, for some people it is).

I know whereof I speak, because my very first <a href > was created for this very site.
posted by alms at 1:07 PM on October 16, 2012


At this point MeFi's use of HTML instead of markdown is an adorable anachronism that reminds me that this site is for us old folks who used to write HTML in Notepad.exe.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:26 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Used to?
posted by Karmakaze at 1:26 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


> Can we use this syntax for quotes?

I've gotten used to it as a standard that I do it without really thinking. I assume most people know what it means from using e-mail.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:31 PM on October 16, 2012


Karmakaze: "Used to?"

Oh, you poor thing.
posted by schmod at 1:53 PM on October 16, 2012


> Can we use this syntax for quotes?

If it isn't breaking shit or driving everybody crazy, do what you like.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:55 PM on October 16, 2012


Notepad? Too newfangled for me.
Emacs forever.
posted by wildcrdj at 2:02 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


schmod: “I'll stop threadsitting, but I think it's better because it requires 1/3 as many keystrokes to italicize something (2/5 if you count the shift key), and doesn't disrupt the flow of the text while you're (re)reading the source code.”

I just wanted to point out that this isn't entirely true, at least as I far as I can see. It sounds like you might not know about the keyboard shortcuts, or might have forgotten them.

These are the keyboard shortcuts, for anybody wondering:

control-b = embolden
control-i = italicize
control=u = link

These shortcuts are (in my experience) faster than any kind of markup, although that may be because I'm pretty quick at the shift-arrow highlighting.

Unfortunately there aren't shortcuts for ordered lists or blockquotes or smalls or anything else I know of, so this doesn't necessarily solve the entire problem.
posted by koeselitz at 2:39 PM on October 16, 2012


– oh, and – you don't have to highlight to use the keyboard shortcuts. If you're about to go to the trouble of typing out an <em> tag to start a section of italics, just tap control-i, and your cursor will suddenly be in the middle of completed tags. Boom. All you have to do then is control-right out of them when you're done with the section you want italicized. This works pretty well in the flow of typing, I find.
posted by koeselitz at 2:41 PM on October 16, 2012


A) As has been stated (and missed many times, apparently), you can mix standard HTML and Markdown. People wouldn't be "forced to learn a new language" or be confused by a new language unless they chose to try to learn it.

B) Control-[whatever] shortcuts don't work on mobile (or at least iOS). Which happens to be where the much shorter Markdown shines.

C) As has been stated (and missed many times, apparently), you can mix standard HTML and Markdown. People wouldn't be "forced to learn a new language" or be confused by a new language unless they chose to try to learn it.
posted by brentajones at 2:43 PM on October 16, 2012


Control-[whatever] shortcuts don't work on mobile (or at least iOS).

The B, I and link widgets are one-tap affairs that are handy for precisely that reason. I suspect more folks use those than the ctrl hotkeys even on desktops and laptops.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:48 PM on October 16, 2012


brentajones: “As has been stated (and missed many times, apparently), you can mix standard HTML and Markdown. People wouldn't be 'forced to learn a new language' or be confused by a new language unless they chose to try to learn it.”

That's not true in a simple or direct way. Markdown supports in-line HTML. That means wholly implementing markdown, and then blacklisting or whitelisting the HTML terms we have carefully tweaked over the years and fine-tuning them again to suit our preferred behaviors. (I think – someone can correct me if I'm wrong here, but that's what this link given above says.) I really don't think that's a feasible option.

“Control-[whatever] shortcuts don't work on mobile (or at least iOS). Which happens to be where the much shorter Markdown shines.”

Is it really? I kind of thought the opposite was true. We have buttons on the desktop site, but people prefer some kind of typed markdown/html thing so we don't have to take our hands off the keyboards. But on my iPhone, it takes a bunch of button-pushing to get to the * key and the [ key and all that – but the italic, bold and link buttons are right there in plain view, and easy to get to without wading through alt keyboards. Why not just use them? I guess you're right if we're just talking about ordered lists and blockquotes.

Or, on preview, what cortex said.
posted by koeselitz at 2:54 PM on October 16, 2012


Nooooooo.
posted by Justinian at 2:56 PM on October 16, 2012


Whoa. Shortcuts. That *is* helpful, even though the markup subset is still kind of limited...
posted by schmod at 3:10 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Is it really? I kind of thought the opposite was true. We have buttons on the desktop site, but people prefer some kind of typed markdown/html thing so we don't have to take our hands off the keyboards. But on my iPhone, it takes a bunch of button-pushing to get to the * key and the [ key and all that – but the italic, bold and link buttons are right there in plain view, and easy to get to without wading through alt keyboards."

On my iPhone in landscape mode, if I have the site "zoomed out" all the way, I can almost see the entire box to type in and the row of shortcut buttons. And the shortcut buttons are about half the height of a row of keyboard keys. And when I type, the phone zooms in anyway and so you can't see the shortcuts until you reach the bottom of the box. It does seem to work fine in portrait mode. (it is entirely possible I'm doing it wrong)

In any case, there are a number of iOS apps that will change markdown to HTML (Drafts and Elements are two I use), so it's not a big deal. I just agree with OP that it would be a nice thing to have.
posted by brentajones at 3:12 PM on October 16, 2012


you can mix standard HTML and Markdown.

Not on Reddit, so I suppose it's not truly a Markdown implementation as some have suggested above?
posted by laconic skeuomorph at 3:13 PM on October 16, 2012


People with iPhones: use shortcuts to create your html. Never type a > or < again.
posted by desjardins at 3:20 PM on October 16, 2012 [3 favorites]


Psst, keyboard users... when your cursor isn't in the comment box, try pressing K, or J.

welcome to the enlightened club of MeFi keyboard-navigators
posted by subbes at 3:26 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have never liked markdown, don't really see how it saves time since I have to memorize a whole bunch of unintuitive shit

Many scientists (including me) now write research papers entirely in markdown. It takes me 5 minutes to teach someone how to write in markdown. Even before it's parsed, that unintuitive shit is infinitely more readable than unparsed html. It beats using Microsoft Word (or Pages for that matter). It might be not be worth implementing for Mefi but I think markdown is a pretty fantastic way to write human (and machine) readable documents that can quickly be parsed into any number of formats (pdf, latex, html).
posted by special-k at 3:49 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised that this thread has gotten so far without anyone mentioning wikitext yet. If all of the people who have re-invented the wheel of an abbreviated markup language that translates to HTML-and-sundry over the last couple of decades had instead just standardized on what already existed maybe there would be wider adoption of that sort of thing.

Your favorite markup language is not a special snowflake. Also, get off my lawn.
posted by XMLicious at 4:20 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Markdown's biggest fault is lack of support for the blink tag. I think we can all chalk this up to a personal failure on the part of John Gruber.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:25 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Those who enjoy Markdown for writing papers & tech documents may wish to consider ASCIIDoc. It's more powerful by far, and generated Docbook XML which, in turn, generates PDF, ePub, HTML, RTF, and so on and so forth. Its configuration files make it very easy to customize its behaviour.
posted by davidpriest.ca at 4:34 PM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


i'm sure i'm not the only one on here who doesn't have html tags memorized, and for the hand full that i could remember of the top of my head, actually writing them out is too tedious without tab completion and keyboard shortcuts.
posted by cupcake1337 at 4:53 PM on October 16, 2012


From what I've seen of Markdown it's entirely too easy to enable the markup by accident. The _Word_ structure for example is something I use often when I want a different flavour of emphasis than markup italics.

I'm curious how that number list thing works though. Do the numbers have to be in order? Because that is a big advantage of html's OL syntax; the list items are numbered automatically and I can insert line items willy nilly without having to worry about the line numbers.

schmod writes "maryr: "Another problem with Markdown is why the hell is _underscore_ used for italic and not, oh, I don't know, UNDERLINE. Or is that just me?"

Ya, that seems silly but just goes to show that it is just as quirky and non-intuitive as any markup language.

I find it to be considerably easier to write than HTML. It also makes it much easier to proofread comments.

While that may be a problem other places we have both live and submission preview here negating the need to proofread in the marked up text.

zarq writes "'Memorizing a whole bunch of unintuitive shit' is pretty much how I'd describe learning html."

But once you've done it it works most everywhere.

Sokka shot first writes "People would go on using longhand tags and nobody who didn't want to use Markdown would even have to know that it existed."

The uptake if you didn't make it the default would be really small I'd think because the people who can't manage to learn the simple html we use here would be the same people who don't check metatalk and who don't change their defaults.
posted by Mitheral at 6:02 PM on October 16, 2012


MathML grumble, grumble

I used MathJax for the first time this past weekend (well, to be precise, used MathJax consciously, rather than on MathOverflow, etc.). Probably the most exciting internet-related thing that has happened to me in a while.
posted by hoyland at 8:12 PM on October 16, 2012


i'm sure i'm not the only one on here who doesn't have html tags memorized, and for the hand full that i could remember of the top of my head, actually writing them out is too tedious without tab completion and keyboard shortcuts.

No kidding. I mean, I love the focus on the primacy of textual communications here, but I'll be honest that I don't find the html endearing in the slightest. I've made my peace with it on my computer and resent the crap out of it on my phone, but overall just accept it as a friction in an otherwise great interface.
posted by Forktine at 8:14 PM on October 16, 2012


I'm surprised that this thread has gotten so far without anyone mentioning wikitext yet.

Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:55 PM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Numbered footnote-style links pretty? We have this thing called point and click, maybe you've heard of it?
posted by scruss at 4:46 AM on October 17, 2012


All comments should be in the form of regular expressions.
posted by blue_beetle at 5:47 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Notepad? Too newfangled for me.
Emacs forever.


Sure Notepad is newer but so is a $40 Walmart bike compared to a 1957 Mustang.

(Vim, on the other hand, is a sleek European sports car of some sort that can out-maneuver that Mustang three ways to Sunday.)
posted by kmz at 6:32 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Markdown supports in-line HTML. That means wholly implementing markdown, and then blacklisting or whitelisting the HTML terms we have carefully tweaked over the years and fine-tuning them again to suit our preferred behaviors.

No, this is not the case. As I said in my earlier comment, you can run input text through the Markdown tool (which outputs HTML), and then run it through the exact same sanitizer that's used today.

This ensures that no disallowed HTML sneaks through, whether it's produced by literally typing it in, or generated by Markdown. Markdown features that aren't currently allowed if you typed the raw HTML into the comment box would be prohibited by default.

What you don't want to do is run the input through the HTML sanitizer (existing) and then through Markdown. That could result in stuff sneaking through that's not currently allowed. But that would be dumb.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:39 AM on October 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


It is 2012. Learn HTML already. Yes, I know facebook/walled garden shit is telling you to sleep, sleeeeep, you don't need to know how to make webpages, they will all be made for you. But fuck that noise. If you want to use the Internet, learn how to use it. Be empowered.

That way, if you really want it, you can build your own MetaFilter. With Markdown. And blackjack. And hookers. In fact, forget the Markdown. And the blackjack.
posted by Eideteker at 8:11 AM on October 17, 2012


I have never liked markdown, don't really see how it saves time since I have to memorize a whole bunch of unintuitive shit, and prefer to just write HTML since that's what it's going to end up anyway.

This is why I write everything in machine language.
posted by ignignokt at 9:34 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, I know facebook/walled garden shit is telling you to sleep, sleeeeep , you don't need to know how to make webpages, they will all be made for you. But fuck that noise. If you want to use the Internet, learn how to use it. Be empowered.

There is nothing wrong with using tools that do exactly what you want and then digging into the foundation of those tools when and if you actually need to do so. In fact, it's much smarter to do that than to learn a language hoping it'll apply to future problems.
posted by ignignokt at 9:42 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


You need to know HTML for Metafilter! (Except line breaks, because that would be a pain or something.)
posted by smackfu at 12:05 PM on October 17, 2012


I'm neutral on this but I must point out:

jessamyn sez:
1. This site has used what it uses for almost thirteen years and there are still challenges for some users with it
That's actually a good argument FOR supporting something else, not for keeping the existing challenging HTML markup.

Additionally, adding markup via a userscript doesn't benefit mobile users which is exactly the group that would most benefit from markup.

Again, I feel pretty neutral on this but I do think the normal knee-jerk "no!" reaction requires more evaluation at this time. Mobile is more important that ever and HTML really does stink on touch keyboards.
posted by chairface at 1:52 PM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tell Me No Lies: "Your favorite markup language sucks."

relevant: ahem
posted by symbioid at 2:58 PM on October 17, 2012


people could just start using markdown, part of the appeal is that it looks ok as code. then, down the road some interpreter could be implemented.
posted by cupcake1337 at 4:51 PM on October 17, 2012


Yes, I know facebook/walled garden shit is telling you ... you don't need to know how to make webpages, they will all be made for you.

Hah, one of the reasons I disliked Facebook when it first started, was that I thought it was for people who were too lazy learn some HTML in order to put a home page together. Such people being evidently inferior, etc.

Also - re. cognitive load - once the syntax of HTML tags is remembered, you actually have to remember less - just the alphabetical content of the tag, which is frequently mnemonic (u for underline, i for italic, etc.). That's about as difficult as knowing that the U button in a word processor toolbar will underline the selected text.

And seriously - we are halfway to a series of proprietary Webs that have nothing to do with the aims of the original HTTP (including the flexibility, functionality, and usability that results from standardization).
posted by carter at 8:09 PM on October 17, 2012


Wait, I thought everyone was writing in pod or reST or some sort of S-expression based system of their own devising... or Scribble?

Yeah, I think Scribble is what the cool kids are using these days.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:45 PM on October 17, 2012


Also - re. cognitive load - once the syntax of HTML tags is remembered, you actually have to remember less - just the alphabetical content of the tag, which is frequently mnemonic (u for underline, i for italic, etc.). That's about as difficult as knowing that the U button in a word processor toolbar will underline the selected text.

Yeah, but typing it in on a mobile device is a miserable experience. I've been coding html for as long as the web has been around and I'm very comfortable with it. I'd still prefer to have markdown.
posted by empath at 7:45 AM on October 18, 2012


Like I said above, it feels like writing markdown on a mobile device would be just as miserable as writing HTML. Or do they put the underscore in some magically accessible place on an Android keyboard? On Metafilter it's pretty easy because we have buttons for that under the text entry boxes; as was said above, the text box is sometimes not all on-screen, but it's much easier to move the page down a little than it is to tap through alternate keyboards to try to find special characters.

I guess maybe we could put buttons at the bottom of the text box for markdown symbols, too. But that somehow just feels crufty and unnecessary, since I can't see much benefit over HTML; either way, it'll just be faster to click the B or the i or the link.
posted by koeselitz at 8:16 AM on October 18, 2012


Three clicks to an underscore or asterisk on ios. Three clicks for each bracket. So you've got 6 clicks total for * * or and 13 for html.
posted by empath at 8:20 AM on October 18, 2012


Yeah I can't comment on smart phone usability, because I don't have one ;)

Maybe we can see this as some possible user requirements for a specific MeFi smart phone interface - have some basic formatting/link buttons always accessible in the interface.
posted by carter at 8:21 AM on October 18, 2012


empath: “Three clicks to an underscore or asterisk on ios. Three clicks for each bracket. So you've got 6 clicks total for * * or and 13 for html.”

But why click at all? There's buttons for it right there, and it still only takes one click of one of those buttons to make <em></em>. I guess maybe sometimes people really want to use the actual keyboard.
posted by koeselitz at 8:23 AM on October 18, 2012


Additionally, adding markup via a userscript doesn't benefit mobile users which is exactly the group that would most benefit from markup.

If your mobile device's browser doesn't support the javascript libraries that handle Markdown, or for some reason wouldn't support a user script to convert the Markdown you type into a text field into HTML, that's really the device manufacturer's problem. Unless I'm misunderstanding what you're saying.
posted by XMLicious at 8:46 AM on October 18, 2012


XMLicious: “Unless I'm misunderstanding what you're saying.”

I think so. The term "userscript" generally refers to a script that the user installs. There are probably mobile browsers that allow users to install scripts themselves, but they sure aren't ubiquitous, and even if they were expecting mobile users to install scripts in their browsers seems a bit more presumptuous than expecting desktop users to be able to.
posted by koeselitz at 9:17 AM on October 18, 2012


(Or maybe I'm misunderstanding what you were saying. Are there really mobile browsers that allow installation of user scripts? I guess I should look this up.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:18 AM on October 18, 2012


But why click at all? There's buttons for it right there, and it still only takes one click of one of those buttons to make . I guess maybe sometimes people really want to use the actual keyboard.

Context switching has a cost. I use the I button at the bottom when quoting people, because its relatively easy to choose select all and then hit the button. It's significantly less easy to interrupt yourself mid-thought, stop typing, select a section of text, scroll down and then scroll back up. It's a lot easier for me to stay in the keyboard the whole time.
posted by empath at 9:34 AM on October 18, 2012


Hit the button first then type in between the tags to avoid text selection.
posted by Mitheral at 4:38 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there really mobile browsers that allow installation of user scripts?

It looks like the Scriptish guys (guy?) have been working on porting it to FireFox Mobile, for example. But even besides that, a user script that was already working would be relatively easy to package into a browser plug-in or add-on or whatever the particular browser calls it.

It just makes much more sense to build Markdown support into a user script or browser add-on and have people be able to work out the kinks there or do custom workarounds for their own particular issues than it does to spend however many months reworking all the plumbing on MetaFilter itself, potentially break stuff for everyone else who isn't especially interested in Markdown in the process, and have cycles of fixes and refinements in the midst of long dramatic MeTas airing the gnashing of teeth over new problems and changes all that causes.

By the end of which, the mobile browsers will all support user scripts anyways and there will be some hot new markup language people will want implemented.
posted by XMLicious at 6:15 PM on October 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is absurd to discuss more-convenient methods of entering markup when:
  • in practice, almost no one uses structural markup (not even BLOCKQUOTE)
  • markup tends to be limited to I and the non-HTML STRIKE
  • MetaFilter itself is atrocious tag soup to begin with, despite mathowie’s being personally acquainted with the entire set of proponents of Web standards for a decade
  • developer pb angrily defends such tag soup
MetaFilter is a place where paragraphs are separated by HR and line lengths are approximately the width of your monitor. Hoping for increased convenience in markup entry is hoping for the wrong thing.
posted by joeclark at 1:36 PM on October 19, 2012

MetaFilter is a place where paragraphs are separated by HR...
BR, surely.
posted by Karmakaze at 1:43 PM on October 19, 2012


No, HR. The paragraphs on Metafilter are so contentious they actually have to be separated physically by the Human Resources department (which is pretty much just jessamyn).
posted by koeselitz at 1:46 PM on October 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


developer pb angrily defends such tag soup

pb, one of the calmest, nicest people I have ever met in my life, has on one or two occasions been short with you after your nth spleen-venting driveby shit-upon-the-site performance. Which somehow you still manage not to internalize any fucking culpability for.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:47 PM on October 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


No, HR. cortex and I are so badass it requires a guy like this to settle us down.

developer pb angrily defends such tag soup

This has not been my recollection of these exchanges, at all.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:50 PM on October 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Perhaps pb can build a time machine so y'all can hire H.R. to be the in house "son-of-a-bitch".
posted by Jahaza at 2:41 PM on October 19, 2012


I thought it was this HR, but apparently he's been deprecated.
posted by carter at 5:59 PM on October 19, 2012


I expected this HR, who I can't imagine being deprecated.
posted by Forktine at 6:38 PM on October 19, 2012


Yeah, in the year that I've been knowing pb behind the scenes, he really went ballistic a couple of times. Once he said something was kind of a hassle, and then the other time I think he said he wasn't "that happy" about something. Jeeze. Talk about walking on eggshells.

Seriously, pb is a total, total sweetheart.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:12 AM on October 20, 2012


I have less experience than the mods, but pb has always seemed pretty awesome to me. Incredibly responsive, and always pleasant.

HR violation.
posted by koeselitz at 11:14 AM on October 22, 2012


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