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It's been nearly 18 months since Jeff Atwood asked about The Future of Markdown, proposing that...

...Stack Exchange, GitHub, Meteor, Reddit, and any other company with lots of traffic and a strategic investment in Markdown, all work together to come up with an official Markdown specification, and standard test suites to validate Markdown implementations.

Since then as far as I can tell, there has been not a lot of movement. A W3C Markdown Community Group was started and atrophied after a few months. There seems to be no momentum behind standardization and therefore no compelling reason why Stack Exchange should not go our own way: how long are we going to wait?

Jeff went on to say:

I'd really prefer not to fork the language; I'd much rather collectively help carry the banner of Markdown forward into the future, with the blessing of John Gruber and in collaboration with other popular sites that use Markdown.

The implication being that forking Markdown is something we should consider, if there is no hope of collaboration with John Gruber and the other sites. It's not happening. Let's fork now.

Jeff never wanted "to extend Markdown by adding tons of crazy new functionality", but, cards on the table, that's exactly what I want. Not that we need to allow every crazy feature everywhere, or indeed anywhere, but let's start by changing the Markdown engine to something very similar to Markdown Extra or GitHub Flavored Markdown and then have the discussion about what gets enabled where.

Why?

  1. The more technical sites are crying out for footnotes support. Unless you are a contributor on one of those sites, you won't understand why the workarounds suck for an answer like this one.
  2. Having no tables on DBA.SE is painful. I can see the arguments either way on SO, but there is no downside on a site that's all about tabular data.
  3. We can take the opportunity to fix the things about Markdown that are broken: the "lack of project leadership", the "so-called 'spec'" (Jeff's words); the ambiguities, the absence of a formal strict grammar or test suite.
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    +1 because you mentioned tables. I WANT TABLES DAMMIT! – michaelb958 Apr 19 '14 at 14:20
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    Sure, fine, but is that a matter for the Stack Exchange community? – Martijn Pieters Apr 19 '14 at 14:20
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    It could be @MartijnPieters. It's used by us extensively. We have a clear view on its use and problems. Why not kickstart something? – Bart Apr 19 '14 at 14:22
  • @Bart: I am all for kickstarting something and seeding the project with people by perhaps posting here that you've done it. What such a project needs is clear leadership and vision though, and I don't think that a post on MSE is going to produce that. – Martijn Pieters Apr 19 '14 at 14:24
  • @Bart: It is not all that clear what the goal of this post here is; is approval from the SE community required to go do this? – Martijn Pieters Apr 19 '14 at 14:24
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    I mentioned to Jeff that I was interested in participating in that effort back when he first mentioned it, but I didn't hear anything else about it afterward. I'm not sure that I agree with adding a whole bunch of crazy stuff, but I am interested in where this goes. – Tim Stone Apr 19 '14 at 14:26
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    Okay, that's admittedly the case @martijn. I would assume part of the goal here is to gauge if there is any intent of SE to actively start this. – Bart Apr 19 '14 at 14:29
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    With the extras you may as well look into AsciiDoc which covers them out of the box – random Apr 19 '14 at 14:30
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    If you fork it, are you going to call it “forkdown”? – Donal Fellows Apr 19 '14 at 15:19
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    @Martijn SE have a long track record of caring what the community wants. Not necessarily doing what the community wants, but definitely caring. The goal of this post is find out the strength of feeling among us, in the hope that SE will be prompted to start making plans for the future of our Markdown. – Jack Douglas Apr 19 '14 at 15:33
  • @random AsciiDoc is nice, very nice, but I'm guessing there is a vanishingly small chance of a change that big. – Jack Douglas Apr 19 '14 at 15:35
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    Yeah - bring it on! Two encouraging responses to the "Future of Markdown" post by Jeff Atwood: (1) John MacFarlane's comment, and (2) the expression of interest from Github. But apart from that, Markdown Extra's solutions are perfectly sensible. Time for action! – Dɑvïd Apr 19 '14 at 15:43
  • @Davïd thanks, I've added a link to a post by John MacFarlane. – Jack Douglas Apr 19 '14 at 15:47
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    MultiMarkdown seems to have quite a few interesting features too (tables, automatically numbered footnotes, ...). – user259226 Apr 19 '14 at 19:26
  • If you want AsciiDoc, you know where to find it. – J. C. Salomon Apr 23 '14 at 3:13
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And now (= 2014.09.03 to the world) there is "Standard [Flavored] Markdown" "CommonMark". See also Jeff Atwood's accompanying blog post.

It would be nice to think that some of these bold Meta.SE posts played a small part in nudging that project forward. :)

  • ^^^ Yes, as in @JackDouglas's post. ;) – Dɑvïd Dec 17 '14 at 8:16
  • True, I just thought it worth mentioning here as well since your more-upvoted post shows at the top – Tobias Kienzler Dec 17 '14 at 10:32
  • @TobiasKienzler - fair enough. While I'm at it (and no, comments are not the place for this :) - did you notice your old post is getting some traction? About time! – Dɑvïd Dec 17 '14 at 10:43
  • Indeed, thanks for your answer there - that's how I actually "stalked" you to this post :P – Tobias Kienzler Dec 17 '14 at 10:56
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@David's post mentions Standard Markdown Common Markdown CommonMark, which is an incredibly welcome development - apparently my "It's not happening" was wrong: it was happening on the quiet!

All I want to add is that I think this is the correct way to go about it: the horse before the cart. If we can get a widely accepted standard implementation of markdown on SE first, then we can talk about implementing extensions to the standard later. On the subject of extensions, you may be interested to know:

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    and CommonMark will be adopted some time in the future – ratchet freak Sep 8 '14 at 10:46
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    Will it includes chairs? I mean, when we finally have tables, what do they expect us to do without chairs? – ADTC Sep 26 '14 at 6:30

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