Getting in to Markdown

The concept of John Gruber’s Markdown has long intrigued me, but I haven’t previously had a role that I thought it could solve. Recently though I’ve been doing a bit of writing for the web, both here and for my intranet at work[1], which I’ve used as an excuse to learn and tryout Markdown.

Markdown is a lightweight syntax for marking up text files for later conversion to HTML. It is intended to let writers write in plain text with markup elements that don’t distract from the writing. The finished material can then be converted to HTML—which is also marked up text, but markup that is not lightweight nor simple to read.

Although there are plenty of free guides to Markdown on the web, including Gruber’s, I ended up buying David Spark’s Markdown ebook in iBooks, which is more of an e-learning package than a book, containing numerous video screencasts demonstrating Markdown’s use.

Having got my head around the basics of the syntax, I’ve been doing my writing in Byword. It’s clean and nice to use, and suits my workflow with Mac, iPad and iPhone versions, which can sync via DropBox or iCloud (I’m using iCloud, which has worked flawlessly). In addition the iPad and iPhone versions support TextExpander, and also provide for email composition, allowing much easier rich text email writing than the Mail app does—although I’ve used this feature less than I thought I would. I’ve also found myself using Byword as a general note taking app due to its multi-device availability and sync.

So in all, my Markdown experiment has been something of a success, and I’m enjoying the wide range of software that offers Markdown support. If you write, and particularly if you write for the web, Markdown and tools like Byword are well worth checking out. I can also highly recommend David Spark’s Markdown book as something to get you started if you want deeper coverage than what you’ll get from the free web guides.

  1. There we’re currently using MODX as our main content management system, but vicious rumours suggest we may be moving to Sharepoint.  ↩