A Markdown Primer

Markdown is a simple way to include formatting options in plain text files. If you’re wondering why this is useful or even important, take a look at this article on Markdown as an archival standard. For me, Markdown has been fun to play with, but I’m finally seeing some very practical solutions. First, there’s the new Day One blogging feature that let’s me quickly and easily send a journal entry to my Day One blog. A few days ago, Dick Eastman mentioned a new Dropbox collaboration feature developed using a service called Sitedrop. When I checked it out, I noticed there were a number of files using the .md file extension meaning they were Markdown files. When I opened one, I was presented with a “web” page.

VERRRRY INTERESTING  . . .

Although I’m getting pretty good at writing (typing) on my iPad, trying to include even the simplest HTML tags in a blog post is a nightmare. WordPress.com supports Markdown for both posts and comments. You’ll find checkboxes in Settings (Writing and Discussion panels) to turn on Markdown. Once activated, you can use it when posting from the WordPress mobile app as well as your desktop browser.

To get started, go find a good Markdown reference (or two) and add them to your Help Desk notebook in Evernote. A quick look shows you how easy it is to use – it’s just a matter of getting in the habit.

WordPress Markdown reference: http://en.support.wordpress.com/markdown-quick-reference/
Day One Markdown reference: https://dayone.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/200265094-Markdown-Guide

Here’s a look at Markdown in a Day One journal entry. In the editor screen you can see the Markdown code hardly impacts the readability of the text (remember it’s still just plain text), but in the reading screen Day One has done the conversion to display formatted text. The journal entry is saved as marked up plain text and converted on the fly for whichever purpose you’ve selected – view, export to PDF or publish to blog. You’ll note that the hashtag in front of the Experiments heading didn’t convert. That’s because I didn’t put a space between it and the text. My bad.

If you’re a “touch typist” you may even find it easier to use Markdown to format text since you don’t have to take your hands off the keyboard to do it. It’s a whole lot easier to add two asterisks before and after text you want bolded than it is to stop, grab the mouse, select the text, click on the bold button then click again to put the cursor back where you left off. However, there is one thing I’ll still do the “standard” way – especially in WordPress – inserting images. I’m still going to have to go through the process of uploading the image so clicking a few options and the insert button is just as easy.

Markdown may not make a big difference here at the Gazette – especially on articles full of examples and other techy things – but I do see it becoming very useful on my personal blogs and in my journaling. Here I’m capturing moments and writing personal stories. Quite often I’m doing this on a mobile device – either my iPhone or iPad. Until now, I would often just add some quick notes and wait until I got to my desktop to write a “proper” story. I still don’t see myself “typing” a thousand-word missive on my iPhone, but that could happen on my iPad – especially with a bluetooth keyboard.

I’m using WordPress and Day One as examples because these platforms are where I spend a lot of my time. There are a growing number of apps and platforms supporting Markdown so this is a topic that won’t be going away anytime soon.