Markdown, a text-to-HTML conversion tool, has been in existence since 2004. Although initially it was used to document software easily, of late it is gathering interest as a powerful alternative to WYSIWYG editors.
The following are some good reasons why Markdown has the potential to become an important inclusion in any content management system:
Markdown is just what you need to add formatting to plain text, be it making text bold, creating headers or building a bulleted list. It allows people to create web pages easily without knowledge or experience of HTML.
Markdown delivers the same output that HTML or Rich Text Formatting (RTF) does, but with a much simpler formatting syntax. For instance, Markdown does not require opening and closing tags that HTML requires. Instead, it uses already familiar punctuation and characters to format text. For example, adding bulleted lists is a nightmare in WYSIWYG. In Markdown, the task of creating bulleted and numbered lists, and even nested lists, is as simple as preceding each line item with a dash and a space, or a number, period and space. Another example is the extreme ease in which Markdown can create a table-of-contents, as opposed to the many hours and days it could take to manipulate HTML code to get a proper table of content.
Markdown offers a minimalist system that makes it very easy to type in the required text and export them elsewhere without worrying about how the text would appear there.
Markdown’s super strong text analysis engine has the capability to recognize any format and convert the text into HTML. In the process, it makes sure that the content is formatted properly for the web. It is supported by a host of web apps, including Wikis and Tumblr, and makes the task of generating web content even more seamless.
Furthermore, Markdown adopts semantic HTML, which separates syntax from the content. This makes it possible to export text to other formats just as easily, meaning that Markdown becomes a viable tool to write not just for websites, but also emails, white papers, novels, or anything else. For instance, it becomes possible to quickly compose and send emails with special formatting without having to log into the email client, as well as create to-do lists easily, and jot and organize notes without fiddling around with formatting. Many to-do list apps, such as Cheddar for IoS, support Markdown.
Markdown offers good middle-ground between pure plain text that restrict authors in many ways, and a full blown word processor such as MS Word that forces authors to waste time on too much formatting. Most WYSIWYG editors offer a limited set of formatting options, which in many cases may be inadequate. Markdown offers unmatched flexibility to apply any format or style, without such options bloating the system.
A case in point is the WYSIWYG editing toolbar allowing three levels of heading (h1, h2, and h3). While the HTML code allows up to six levels of headings (h1 to h6), it does not give the option to format text with h4, h5, or h6 headings in a text block. However, the Markdown allows you to style headings using all the six levels.
Writers and editors end up spending way too much time doing formatting work with WYSIWYG editors, instead of actually writing and editing. Also, every change leads to the formatting going awry, leading to more wastage of time and effort.
This is primarily because WYSIWYG writing apps style text by applying invisible formatting code of bullets, paragraph indentions and many other features. When text is copied and pasted from the WYSIWYG editor to another app or the web browser, such invisible formatting code is also inadvertently copied. For every bullet and indent, there is a corresponding HTML code, and such code run into pages. Apps such as Squarespace that strip out such hidden styling code are limited in effectiveness.
Markdown, even in code form, closely resembles styled HTML, with underlines for headings, asterisks for bullets and various other features. Editors can thus review a document in Markdown before it has been parsed to HTML, meaning it is easy to apply all changes without worrying about the formatting. Then, there is no invisible code, and the pasted test appears in the web browser as it is. This boosts productivity and efficiency to no small extent.
Markdown cleans up writing and makes the content better structured, better organized and more accessible. Such semantically well-structured webpage or content piece allows search engines, web browsers, content management systems and other software to interact with the written text in a meaningful and useful way, to detect the structure of the content and what is important in it. It also makes internal search easier, and in the process boosts search engine rankings.
Most authors and editors lack proper understanding of semantic HTML structure, and in any case, writing HTML code to get this right is a time-consuming and tedious job. Markdown does this automatically. Markdown ensures better use of header tags, standards-compliant HTML tags and a neater structure, meaning that screen readers and other accessibility devices can leverage it to allow users understand content better.
One of the lesser known advantages of using Markdown is the scope to improve security. When converting text into HTML using markdown, it is possible to hide or mask personal information. For instance, in normal HTML code, spambots know where exactly to go and retrieve the contact’s email address. Markdown would cover the email address in code so that spambots cannot touch.
A spin-off from using Markdown is how it helps writers focus on their real job—writing! It encourages writers to think about their words and become better writers, instead of focusing on how to make the content “look” better with big, bold, sparkling formatting applied by WYSIWYG.
In short, Markdown makes it easier to write, easier to edit, easier to read, and easier to provide accessibility.