What is markdown and multimarkdown, I hear you ask? Markdown is a syntax for writing in plain text whilst retaining the ability to output to various file formats with formatting. Think of it as Latex for dummies. Multimarkdown is an extension of Markdown adding additional features that were lacking from the original syntax. I guess that can be equated to C, C+ and C++.
So why on earth would you want to write in this intriguing syntax? Well, there are many reasons but how about I give you just some of the main plus points that got me hooked.
First, it is a none proprietary format. Text files were there at the dawn of computing and they are highly likely to still be there long after we have left the planet. Word documents on the other hand have undergone several iterations over the years with large issues of backwards compatibility. So if you like the idea of being able to open anything you have written with no hassle in a few years time, read on.
The next benefit, which kind of goes hand in hand with the last one, is you can open them anywhere! Windows, OSX, Linux, iOS, Android and the list goes on. All devices can open, understand and allow you to edit a text file! The same cannot be said for MS Office documents!
Another benefit, good in this ever increasingly mobile world is small file sizes. As an example, I had a work project Word file that was approximately 2.3MB. The same text in a text file? 7KB! That's almost 336 times smaller! Ok my Word document had graphic in it, but that graphic was also located on my hard drive, thus, existing twice. With markdown it would be referenced and, therefore, only existing once.
The syntax leaves you with a readable text file whilst retaining the ability to export how you like. I wrote my Ph.D thesis in Latex. It was great, the ability to just write and not have to worry about formatting or annoying office interfaces. It really allows you to just, well, write! However, Latex isn't for everyone and the syntax can be a little intense. In my opinion though, it provides one of the best document outputs of any program today. The great thing is, markdown can be output to Latex!
So, how do you get started? Well many of the sites around today will tell you to go and read John Grubers site then go to Fletcher Penny's site and hey presto. Well you know what? Their sites really suck for picking this stuff up! They are two very clever guys, but unfortunately that reflects in how they explain things to the lay person! If you want a good 'idiots guide' to Markdown then there really is nothing better than David Sparks Field Guide to Markdown. I've followed David Now for a while on Mac Power Users podcast and I really dig his style! His field guides are brilliant! As a word of caution if your a fairly advanced user you may find some of them slightly dummed down for your taste. I can, however, say that the Markdown guide and the Paperless guide rock!
So that's it for my introduction to why I'm embracing this great syntax! My next post will show you how my markdown/multimarkdown workflow goes to help you implement your own. I find David and the others tend to use so many apps to get things done, my workflow uses one, at a push two. That isn't a criticism of David, its clearly working for him, but it can be daunting as a new user to know which way to go. Someone telling you how they use three or four apps doesn't always really help.