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Standard Markdown Controversy

This is one of the better blogs I’ve read summarizing the recent Markdown controversy. I pretty much agree with all of it, but I wanted to emphasize a few points.

Jeff Atwood has, as a coder, completely missed, an din fact tried to subvert, the purpose of Markdown, in my opinion. Markdown is intended to be a tool for writers. It is not, as originally conceived, a tool for developers. In fact, its very nature makes the lives of those writing conversion tools difficult specifically because it is intended to make writers’ lives easier. It moves the burden of composition, mainly for the web, off the shoulders of writers and puts it squarely on implementers.

The creation of “Standard Markdown”, now dubbed “Common Markdown” following the uproar, sought to transfer that burden back to writers, and it did this by attempting to redefine what canonical Markdown is, as well as its intended purpose.

As someone who enjoys both writing prose and developing software, I can be sympathetic to the difficulties that developers face when writing tools to convert Markdown to other formats, but I’m also strongly in the camp that, generally speaking, it is a developer’s job to make life easier for the end user, even if that means more work for the developer.

Markdown, in a real sense, is a platform to build upon. It is a solid foundation for plain text prose that happens to be very useful for converting to more complex formats. Building new or expanded variations on top of it is an extraordinarily useful endeavor; subverting it into something less useful and extensible is harmful to the community that has sprung up around Markdown. By choosing the name “Standard Markdown”, Atwood was clearly attempting to accomplish the latter.