Marked Down

If you really, really care about Markdown, Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror and Stack Exchange fame has a new project for you. Apparently, Jeff didn’t think Markdown’s original creator’s care of the code was quite up to snuff, and decided to build a new project to more accurately codify the syntax and implementation details. All good things, if, again, you really care about such details. If, however, you are using Markdown like the majority of us: to making writing on the web a bit easier, well, this all might go by unnoticed. At least, it probably would have if Jeff had named his project anything other than “Standard Markdown”.

Markdown has two parts. First, a very bare syntax that defines things like links, italics, and headings. Second, a small, but very clever perl script that parses the Markdown text and converts it into HTML markup. Over the years several other people have written their own parsers for Markdown text, which has led to a fantastic array of available editors and parsers for all platforms, which allows writers to concentrate on writing, and not get bogged down in the details of actually putting our text on the web. Jeff’s heartache seems to be that each of these parsers rendered HTML a bit differently. Gruber has no problem with that, and, for what it’s worth, neither do I, but it seems to bother Atwood quite a bit.

There is only one “standard” markdown, and it’s a perl script written in 2004, hosted at Daring Fireball. Everything else is a derivative work, and for Atwood to claim the name Standard Markdown is wrong. He did not create the syntax or the original parser, and that he is unsatisfied with the handling of the pair is immaterial. It doesn’t matter how he feels about it, he should name his project something else.

Gabe Weatherhead said it best on MacDrifter:

I actually don’t care all that much about whether there is a spec for Markdown. I use various aspects of the language all day every day. I use it on every computer I touch. That’s a statement against Jeff Atwood’s express motivation. I’ve never once cared about the project’s stewardship. I care that it is not complicated and it’s easy to read.

Gruber created something that he wanted to use, then put it out there for the world to use, and in the ten years since he last updated it, Markdown has become extremely popular. However, just because the idea became popular does not mean that anyone is entitled to demand anything more from the original creator. Markdown works for me every day, and I imagine it will continue to do so as long as perl works, no matter what the spec is.