What It Is, Not What It Looks Like
Published by Justin Toupin
Web-based Text Editing
Website owners and managers need a simple way to edit the text within their websites. They need to add headings, make bold text, bulleted lists, and so forth. It's a fundamental need in Content Management implementations, and perhaps the most used feature of any CMS.
Promoting Poor Habits
And this, of course, impairs the quality of content. When tags are added to a particular piece of content to solve specific, isolated design goals, that content looses its ability to be used in broader applications. Then there is the issue of future redesigns. A few years ago, we were looking with a client at a simple redesign for a website and CMS upgrade; the biggest hurdle (and demise of the project) were the countless pages of text littered with font tags, extra paragraphs, and left-over classes pasted in from desktop word processors.
In the second website, though, the styling is different. We used background gifs for ornate bullets, and sub-headings are Georgia and gray.
We discussed the option of styling the editor to match the second site when content was published there -- but what about cases where content might be used in both places? What if the contributors had no idea where their content would be published, and were simply given a subject and tasked to write?
So we began talking about thinking of content in terms of what it is, not what it looks like.
As I mentioned above, requiring clients to learn HTML isn't realistic. And I've explained our problematic experience with WYSIWYG editors. We wanted a tool that doesn't require HTML experience and allows clients to edit text easily and perform simple formatting, while maintaining an emphasis on structure rather than presentation. So we've moved to a solution that uses simple formatting codes to add structure to text.
We use Markdown.
What is Markdown?
According to Wikipedia:
Markdown is a lightweight markup language, originally created by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz, which aims for maximum readability and "publishability" of both its input and output forms, taking many cues from existing conventions for marking up plain text in email.
Markdown uses simple formatting codes to format text, rather than tags. Instead of <strong>bold</strong>, it's **bold**. Instead of <em>italics</em>, it's _italics_. An H1 heading would appear as:
One of the best things about Markdown is the fact that it makes plain-text more legible, unlike HTML. Take a look at the following examples:
- Text with Markdown formatting Headings read like headings, lists like lists.
- Same text, transformed to HTML Markdown transforms perfectly to semantic XHTML. Additional formatting can be added where it should be, in a CSS file, and can be easily altered for various unique applications.
- HTML output, showing HTML source code Notice that HTML code doesn't improve the legibility of the text. It doesn't read well, doesn't add meaning - or structure - to raw text input.
Markdown was originally developed by Gruber and Swartz as a software tool written in Perl, and can be downloaded from John Gruber's widely read website, http://daringfireball.net. An excellent PHP port was written by Michel Fortin, and is available for download at http://michelf.com/projects/php-markdown/. The Drupal module, built on Michel's PHP port, is available at http://drupal.org/project/marksmarty. Many other publishing tools have their own implementations.
What Clients Think