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Created September 4, 2014 20:25
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Markdown discussion transcribed from The Talk Show episode 88, starting at 1h15m23s
Gruber: Have you seen this thing where there's this group that wants to turn Markdown into an IETF standard?
Marco: No, w-- let me guess -- Jeff Atwood?
Gruber: I don't even know, you know what, it broke last weekend. I was out of town with Amy and wasn't paying attention, and I've been busy this week on other stuff. I haven't even paid attention to it. I don't know if it's associated with Atwood's crusade or not. And, there's talk from some people -- and the funny thing is, they're doing it on a mailing list that I still host and I haven't participated on in years. And I don't know why I haven't pulled the plug on the damn mailing list, but I still host the markdown-discuss mailing list, and there's people saying that they should just take the name Markdown from me because I've been such a lousy steward of it and whatever. Meanwhile, you know, there's the web pages on my site for Markdown describing the syntax and everything are more popular every single day. It's more popular -- I could actually -- I've thought about selling a sponsorship just for Markdown alone, because it's more popular -- the Markdown pages on Daring Fireball get more traffic than Daring Fireball did as a whole when I went professional with Daring Fireball.
Marco: You could even -- you could get, like, you know, web development kind of advertisements for that too, like, it's a different market.
Gruber: Right, that's exactly why I've thought that I could do it.
Marco: You could have a job board just on that page.
Gruber: Although I actually think a lot of the traffic is not coming from web developers. It's coming from people who are using a site that has switched to Markdown as the format, you know, for their comments or whatever.
Marco: Oh, that makes sense.
Gruber: But anyway, long story -- I mean, I could go on forever about this, but to me, Markdown's not successful despite not being a standard, etc., etc., and all that would entail, but because of that. Now, it's possible that it would be better off if there were some kind of spec that could -- if there were a spec that implementers could implement for some things. And, you know, maybe I'll do -- there's -- I don't want to get too deep in this, but there's some ideas and some work that people have done that's really interesting in that regard because 99.999% of people wouldn't have to worry about it, and it wouldn't change things. But some of the things that people see as a problem, like the fact that different Markdown implementations are slightly different, is not a problem. It's actually, you know -- that's actually a good thing, because then GitHub, which has, to my opinion, a great flavor of Markdown -- they even call it, they have a great name for it -- perfect name. It's called GitHub Flavored Markdown, and it is exactly suited for GitHub users, and it does code a little differently, because -- no shit -- GitHub users are writing a lot of code blocks.
Marco: Right.
Gruber: And almost none of their changes would make sense for Markdown everywhere. So, you know, it's great. I don't know, people see the world as broken regarding Markdown because there's not one true Markdown. Meanwhile in the real world everybody's happy writing Markdown.
Marco: Yeah, I think you're right. It doesn't seem like it's a problem that needs to really be solved.
Gruber: Exactly.
Marco: And, you know, I think there's a tendency for programmers to want to clean up standards, and formalize things like that, and in many cases that is warranted, but I think saying everything has to be a standard is like saying open always wins.
Gruber: Exactly, yeah.
Marco: Like, that is true sometimes, but it is not a generalization that holds all the time. Maybe there are things that should be standardized, but it seems like Markdown has gotten along just fine without that, and it's moving along fine. And you're right that, you know, different implementations will have different needs.
Gruber: Right.
Marco: And it is not wise to try to cram all these specialty needs into one standard that everybody must follow, and then everything is versioned and you have to be like "Oh, does this support Markdown 2.0?" or not, and it's kind of a mess. I don't know, it's a hard problem to solve.
Gruber: Yeah.
Marco: But I wouldn't assume that a standards body is necessarily the right solution to this problem.
Gruber: I would almost certainly say it is absolutely not.
Marco: Well of course you would say that, 'cause they're basically trying to fire you.
Gruber: Right.
Marco: But, I don't know. I think that the success of Markdown, despite not having a standards body behind it all this time, is the biggest evidence why it probably doesn't need one.
Gruber: Right. Exactly. And, you know, part of what lets it get by without a spec -- and, you know, it would be better in some ways. There's things that could be clarified, and there's things that make Markdown very hard, for example, to write a syntax-coloring description for because of ambiguities. There's things -- the general assumption with Markdown, the reason why it doesn't have a spec and why I think it probably shouldn't -- is the general assumption is that whoever is writing it knows what they're doing, and isn't going to input random gibberish. And there's all sorts of -- the problems that people are talking about is, well, what if you put seven asterisks in a row? What does that generate? Well, don't do that. That's my answer. I don't know what it generates. Does it generate a bunch of empty <em> tags or <strong> tags? I don't know. I just seems like -- why would you do that?
Marco: (Laughter)
Gruber: You know, check what it looks like before you publish it, and if you see -- "Oh, I forgot that if I put a bunch of asterisks there, that means something in Markdown. I should backslash escape 'em." Just, take a look at it. It could be better. I'm not trying to brush aside all criticism of it and say that there's nothing I could do better. Maybe I should take a couple of weeks and wade back in and clean up some things. But I think what Markdown needs from me would be, like, a version -- I don't even know what the official version -- but, like, if it's at 1.0.1 I should do like a 1.0.2.
Marco: Right, or at most like a 1.1.
Gruber: Yeah, maybe a 1.1. There's no need for a Markdown 2.0. And there's no need for a standard or a spec, but people get really worked up about it.
Marco: What if they just make their own thing and give it another name and see if it catches on?
Gruber: Exactly! That's -- I've said that to -- that's like, I probably should set up a TextExpander snippet for that one. Make up your own thing, and see if it catches on.
Marco: Yeah, 'cause it might, and then fine, problem solved. Then you have your own thing that you control, and it has a different name, and fine, you got it.
Gruber: Right. I dunno, we'll see how that goes. It's either gonna peter out or it's going to be a thing that I'm going to have to take a little more public, and then, you know, be like, "No, you cannot take the name Markdown." And I do have a nice soapbox for that, and I have a lot of people who are probably going to be on my side of this, and then everybody's going to be like, "Oh my God, I remember him talking to Marco about that on his podcast a couple weeks ago."
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