I’ve run into a problem. I want to keep my series on using plain text going. I’d like to help people transition their lives away from excessive applications like Microsoft Word, but, as it turns out, the next logical step doesn’t exist.
There are several great options for writing in Markdown and tools for enhancing it, but getting your existing documents converted into it seems to be a real challenge. It’s one that needs solving.
Readers of the series have responded positively to idea of a lighter-weight approach to writing, one that was far more portable and far more future-proofed, but have made it clear that they need a way transition from where they are now. They want to take their backlog of DOC, DOCX and RTF files and convert them into either Markdown files or plain text files with Markdown formatting. At the moment, there’s no solution that’s viable for average computer users.
Several of my geekier friends have offered up several possible solutions; many of them involve scripts and geekery that is way beyond me. There’s nothing out there that is even remotely accessible to most who are just starting to dip their toes into plain text and Markdown. There is, however, an interest in shifting away from overwrought, overpriced technology for creating text in a way that can easily make its way to the web. This is a void that needs filling.
My skills fall far short of what’s needed here, but I though I’d get the ball rolling and offer up the easy part. I can’t provide Markdown newbies the right tool, but I can offer some insight for developers into what they might need and want. Keep in mind, I’ve already done this the long, hard, stupid way, manually converting my essential files, so this is in no way, shape or form a personal request. I don’t need this, but I think there is a significant and growing audience who does. The tool I’m suggesting needs to be simple, it needs to be something that anyone at any level can use. The minute you start talking in code, scripts, services, macros, you’ve lost those who need this most. This needs to be a self-contained, user friendly application, not some combination of slick scripts and services.
With this in mind, here’s a rough idea for a product aimed at the average person writing for the web. Users should be able to drag several files (including at least RTF, Doc and Docx) into an app or onto either a dock or menubar icon to begin queuing the files. Once a specific set of files has been added, the user should be able to go in and select:
- MD files or .txt files with Markdown Syntax.
- Info to prepend and append text to each file name for creating a naming convention for your library. For example, a user could prepend a category tag like Blogx and append a date stamp, which could be created manually or pulled from file data like date created. This would make their new file read Blogx – Original File Name – 12–10–02.
- Add OpenMeta tags (mainly because I worry that Brett Terpstra would kick me if I didn’t suggest this).
- Choose a location to send your files, with the likely intent being a single flat folder for use in an application like nvALT (although I’d still leave the option to manually change the folder for those who prefer a folder structure… and before you tell me that Hazel can probably do this after the fact, remember… we’re talking average users here).
- The option to add a link to the original file (or for brownie points automatically add a link to the file in places where certain aspects of the original file cannot be converted).
From there, users could batch their files, name them correctly by grouping them with keywords and migrate their archives into a new system. There’s probably a lot more that could be done, but as limited as my understanding is, I get the feeling that the conversion is the real challenge. I know guys like Brett Terpstra are starting to work on some of the geekier ways to do this, but a script won’t be the thing that helps those that need it most.
So anyway, if someone with… you know… actual tangible skills wants to build this, I believe there’s a growing need and audience who would be willing to pay in exchange for the time it would save them in making the switch to a plain text system.