Markdown and The Language of The Web

If you were planning to move to a new country, or even simply to visit one, you’d consider the fact that you may not speak the language and take the time to prepare. Depending upon your level of interest or duration of stay, there are several things you could do. You could download an app that gives you common phrases, you could get a language-to-language dictionary or if you are in for the long haul, you may want to grab yourself a copy of Rosetta Stone and put in the hours to learn the language.

The same doesn’t hold true for the web. When we decide to blog1, we figure we already know the fundamentals of writing2, so why bother taking the time to learn the best way to write for the web?

I understand the logic and when it came to learning intensive markup languages like HTML, I get why bloggers tend to shy away. They are somewhat complicated and they can significantly slow down your writing. They are especially challenging if you work with a non-technical editor3. Thankfully, there is a new markup language called Markdown4 that makes it simple for anyone to create for the web in a way that is easy to read and easy to write.

I could go on for hours about the benefits of Markdown, but thankfully one of my own personal gurus5, Brett Terpstra does an excellent job of explaining why Markdown is the smartest way to write for the web:

It’s easy: the syntax is so simple you can barely call it “syntax.” If you can use an emoticon, you can write Markdown.

It’s fast: the simple formatting saves a significant amount of time over hand-crafted HTML tags, and is often faster than using a word processor or WYSIWYG editor. It speeds up the workflows of writers of all ilk, from bloggers to novelists.

It’s clean: Markdown translates quickly to perfectly formed HTML: no missing closing tags, no improperly nested tags, no blocks left without containers. You also get 100% less cruft than exporting HTML from Microsoft Word. There’s no styling inline, nothing that will otherwise break a site’s design or mess with the XSLT formatting for PDF output. In short, it’s foolproof.

It’s portable: your documents are cross-platform by nature. You can edit them in any text-capable application on any operating system. Transporting files requires no zipping or archiving, and the filesize is as small as it can possibly get.

It’s flexible: output your documents to a wide array of formats. Convert to HTML for posting on the web, rich text for sending emails or importing into a layout program for final arrangement or any number of other proprietary formats.

It fits any workflow: You can make Markdown work with any workflow. It can speed up just about any writing-related process with very little setup. It can also be scripted all to hell, if you want, because plain text is the most flexible of any format known to computer-kind.

The language of the web has become so much easier with Markdown. It is going to pay to take the 30 minutes to an hour it requires to be fluent. Especially if you plan on sticking around with this whole blogging thing.

So if, like me, you are in this whole blogging thing for the long haul, head over and read this overview of the how of Markdown.

And if you are curious, you can download this text file of the post in its raw markdown form. In fact, if you are a WordPress blogger, you can even use this plug-in to post to your blog directly in Markdown; I do!

Geeky Quick Tip

While it is already easy to write in Markdown, TextExpander or Keyboard Maestro can make it a lot faster. You can use TextExpander to create snippets that quickly format Markdown as you write or go even farther in Keyboard Maestro to create keyboard shortcuts that will take your existing text and instantly format it for you (click either link to download my current snippets or shortcuts for Markdown).

So what about you? How do you write for the web? Have you learned the language or are you still a tourist carrying around that clunky phrase book?

  1. Or write for the web in any regular capacity for that matter. []
  2. We are writing in our native tongue after all… []
  3. Or in my case, a non-technical grammar geek of a wife. []
  4. Created by the ever-awesome John Gruber! []
  5. even though I can barely follow what he is talking about most of the time. []