WordPress.com Adds Support For Markdown: Is TinyMCE On Its Way Out?

mToday WordPress.com announced that the platform now supports Markdown, the plain text to HTML conversion tool. The syntax was created to be easy to read and easy to write and is rapidly gaining momentum among online publishers.

Support for Markdown has also been added to WordPress mobile apps, which will make it much easier to style and format text while blogging on the go. Very soon we should see a Markdown module added to Jetpack. If you’ve never seen or used Markdown, here’s how it looks in action on WordPress.com:


The beautiful thing about markdown is that it keeps you in the flow on your keyboard. It allows you to edit rich text without having to go back and forth with your mouse to click buttons. If you write for the web, you’re going to want to give yourself a quick crash course. Markdown will soon be everywhere.

TinyMCE Is On Its Way Out

If I were a betting lass, I’d say that this is a strong indication that TinyMCE is finally on its way out. It’s an aging method of styling text and for years has gotten in the way of people learning a better way. With a host of newer formatting tools available, TinyMCE is starting to look and feel rather dated. Extending TinyMCE to add more clunky buttons is not a solution.

If I wanted to put a nail in the coffin of TinyMCE, my first step would be to add Markdown to the largest blogging platform on the planet. With WordPress.com making a move to add support for Markdown, we may indeed be witnessing the end of the TinyMCE era. Markdown is positioned to become the de facto syntax for writing for the web. Are you ready?


33 responses to “WordPress.com Adds Support For Markdown: Is TinyMCE On Its Way Out?”

  1. As a developer, I truly love Markdown as a way to write general content. It’s handy and I use it for various reasons already.

    I have two major concerns however, when it comes to the majority of people:

    1) How happy/willing would people be if they need to use markdown (or even only HTML) to format their posts? (speaking of general clients and newbie users)
    2) How flexible is Markdown when it comes to aligning content, adding padding/margin here and there, slightly increasing the font size differently?

  2. I’m thrilled to see Markdown on wp.com and I’m looking forward to a Jetpack version — however, I’d be shocked if it replaced MCE. The audience for Markdown is basically the same as the audience that already uses the Text editor (and comments on tech news sites); there’s a much larger group that depends heavily on having a Visual editor, never wants to see the plain-text side or any form of markup at all, may even be a little freaked out that something’s gone terribly wrong with their sites if they accidentally get there. And taking away the option of using a WYSIWYG would be an absolutely horrible experience for that group. Not gonna happen.

  3. Free at last, free at last! Thank Matt Almighty (or other TPTB) I’m free at last!

    Like Mario I’m a big Markdown lover. But unlike Mario I’m not a developer at all. I couldn’t code anything to save my life. I just like to write words. I don’t like doing it with TinyMCE and I do love doing it with Markdown.

    Markdown is so clean and easy, you’d almost think that even the general public could use it. But of course Amy is right, anything more complicated that posting a Facebook status update (including, obviously, Facebook privacy settings) is a real challenge to sell to the masses. The visual editors I’ve seen on WP and elsewhere are too sloppy for me, so I’ll gladly take a text editor if I have to and Markdown if I can.

    I imagine WP will always want a visual mode. I wonder if they can be actually WYSIWYG instead of the sloppiness of today.

    PS: I just wrote about Markdown last week in a piece on Editorially for Torque.

  4. @Mario Peshev – Getting rid of TinyMCE and adding support for Markdown doesn’t mean that standard WYSIWYG support will disappear. There are lots of other WYSIWYG solutions beyond TinyMCE. As much as I love Markdown, I agree that it isn’t going to necessarily be something that the “average” user will want to adopt over traditional styling.

    For part 2, the great thing about Markdown is that it works perfectly alongside regular HTML. So you can mix and match. So if you need to set a font size or padding (although, technically this should be stuff that’s covered by CSS and you should either style inline or it should be referenced in your stylesheet — the only element regarding “size” should be h1 – h6, which you call in Markdown using #. So ## Test ## equals a heading that is surrounded in tags.), all you do is just insert that stuff side-by-side.

    You can check out the official syntax (http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/syntax) for more details. Basically from what I can tell, WordPress.com is just installing PHP-Markdown as a plugin to automatically process all Markdown text into HTML.

    99.99% of all of my professional writing is done in Markdown and one of the reasons I’m so addicted to it is indeed because it lets me write for the web in a syntax that also works perfectly with CSS, JavaScript, code blocks and inline HTML.

  5. I think if something is going to replace the current post editor that uses a tinymce instance it will be something like the CEUX team is trying to accomplish (a content blocks approach).

    It’s worth noting however that Tinymce 4.0 which hasn’t been integrated into WordPress yet has various improvements and would make creating a better/different UI for content editing much easier.

  6. Like everyone here, I’m also excited to see Markdown inside WordPress. I don’t see the visual editor going away anytime soon.

    I’m a designer/developer and without a visual editor WordPress becomes a much more difficult sell to clients. Markdown is great, but it’s still niche. The majority of WordPress users are still going to want and rely on a visual editor being present. Whether that’sTinyMCE or something else is another matter.

    Still, as someone who writes everything in Markdown, I’m very excited

  7. I agree that a visual editor will stick with WordPress. It needs to. I fully expect modern web systems like WordPress to have visual editors, as I am an avid user of keyboard shortcuts and the other features a visual editor has to offer. And, my staff members on numerous sites have come to like and depend on having a visual editor. For us, the features of a visual editor greatly speed up workflow and output. Manual coding? No thanks. I’ve hand-coded stuff since 1996 and I’m sick and tired of it.

    If WP were to drop the visual editor, I would drop WP–simple as that. I can appreciate others might want an alternative such as Markdown, but I would not use it, nor would I like it enabled by default. It is nice to have it as an option, however, for those on my staff who might like to use it. I like offering my users a choice; it just doesn’t have to be MY choice, nor do I want it forced on me.

    As a visual editor, though, I will say this: TinyMCE has long been problematic and buggy, and in my experience in dealing with its issues, its developers are far from helpful or receptive to input. Another system growing in popularity is Redactor, which so far has proven to be more reliable in everyday use than TinyMCE. Yet due to its licensing, it could likely not be included in WordPress.

  8. @Christina Warren – frankly, TinyMCE is bad, but I haven’t used a better WYSIWYG editor before. I used FCKEditor (now CKEditor) few years back, but it was buggy and led to regressions for some of our sites. Fact is that there are millions of ways to bend a UI editor, switch to code view back and forth, drag some components, delete, save, revert, open a few tabs of the same screen, which isn’t trivial to handle.

    As for the styling – there are different flavours of Markdown which is also good to mention, as it’s still a bit annoying (although not really a critical issue). And there have been limitations in embedding it within HTML, and some general use-cases from the practice. Getting used to the right indentation practices for code, bullet lists, etc could be confusing for people, using underscores to emphasize a file name with underscores could be just as surprising, etc.

    I believe that it’s a great step towards making people comfortable with Markdown, and getting many bloggers used to it. I would just like to see the results of a month of Markdown usage by a few thousand bloggers and their feedback, too :)

  9. As a blogger, I think having a WYSIWYG editor to be very essential, whether it is TinyMCE or any other. So, even if TinyMCE might be on its way out, it’s important that it be replaced by another.
    I don’t think expecting users to move to Markdown as a replacement to TinyMCE is reasonable.

    That being said, having Markdown as an addon would be a great addition because then basic things like bold, em, or lists because a quick thing to do. It would definitely speed up the whole writing experience.

    • I disagree. Markdown was designed from the ground up to be convenient to write in a plain-text editor, whereas html was not. Typing open and close tags, for example, quickly becomes strenuous (with or without autocomplete / auto-close-tag-inserting). Markdown also gracefully handles syntax errors – you won’t be stumbling upon some ugly unfinished html code or, worse, breaking the output rendering. And its semantics are designed to correlate visually, so it’s easier to get the flow of your output simply by looking over the document. It’s much harder to get the feel for the end product with html.

  10. I never really considered using Markdown until I was “forced” to use it with my Ghost test blog. It took me a while to get used to, but now I use it on all my blogs, including self-hosted WP blogs, it just makes the whole writing process feel more natural and efficient.

  11. Markdown is for geeks. Ask anyone who is not a tech head what Markdown is, and they’ll give you the tilted head RCA dog look. If we’re looking to ditch TinyMCE (not a bad goal), Markdown isn’t it. Markdown is a feature within an editor, not a replacement for one.

  12. @Mark k.

    I disagree here Mark,

    <strong>Bold this</strong>

    **Bold this**

    Although i’ve never used markdown before, it’s concept is great and I really believe it could work long term – but only for simpler tasks like blogging. I don’t see how it will be functional for pages and such, unless we can hook in and add our own markdown codes?

    TinyMCE and other WYSIWYG editors simply do not cut it anymore, we need to look more towards modern front end editing tools that give us true WYSIWYG.

  13. TinyMCE can’t die, for us developers it’s great to have markdown but for normal people that aren’t developers… they will always need TinyMCE, always. Because if not, they will have to learn Markdown, and that will take time for someone who already knows how to use a text processor like Word or Pages.
    So, it can’t die.

  14. As much as I love Markdown, I can’t see it totally replacing TinyMCE (or any other WYSIWYG editor WordPress might use in its place). Even something as simple as a link with target=”new” must still be done in HTML, so you still end up mixing markup with Markdown. And not everybody knows HTML (I’d like to see some data on the percentage of WordPress users’ knowledge of it, honestly), and that’s where the editors still have to come into play.

  15. I’m not understanding why Markdown would deprecate TinyMCE. Markdown is markup, and seemingly more appropriate for the plain text editor. TinyMCE is a visual editor that shows WISYWIG.

    I could see Markdown markup replacing the HTML markup for the TinyMCE buttons, but the TinyMCE editor would still show WISYWIG.

    It’s just not making sense to me. Markdown and HTML are tools for us geeks. WISYWIG editors provide a needed abstraction layer for the vast majority of people who have no need or desire to learn either HTML or Markdown, and just want to write formatted content.

  16. Thanks for covering our Markdown launch!

    Now, as a developer, I would love to nuke TinyMCE from orbit, but it’s not going anywhere until we figure out a visual editing solution that’s 1) better and 2) addresses back-compat in a sane manner.

    Markdown doesn’t really address any of that – I think that the majority of our users will ignore it, but I’m happy to see a vocal minority of Markdown nerds as excited about it as I am. :)

  17. @Matt Wiebe – Thanks for dropping by, Matt. Perhaps I’m wishing on a star here, but I’m hoping that Markdown support will catch on and help users to be less dependent on TinyMCE so that it can be replaced and/or phased out in the near future. At any rate, I love the discussion that Markdown support is generating. :)

  18. As a TinyMCE developer. I see markdown as an alternative to HTML source editing not an alternative to wysiwyg rich text editing. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.

    Also the three types of content editors feed to different needs and users and I guess it’s up to the user to decide what method they like best. They all have pros and cons.

    Source code editors like markdown or html seems to be a hit with developers and pro users. It has the ability to do exactly what you want it to do since you have 100% control. However it’s a poor user experience and hard for non tech people to learn.

    Rich text editors like TinyMCE gives the user the ability to format contents without knowing anything about the source. It’s also a familiar way of editing complex contents that has been around for ages. However it’s easy for users to produce messed up contents so it needs to be configured restrictive.

    Block based editors that enables you to separate your page into content blocks that can be added/removed has the ability to be very strict with output but lack flexibility. Say you want to add a image to a table cell for some reason unless the there is a content block editor for that particular case it needs to be a rich text editor.

    From time to time I see people just bashing the shit out of our product. The problem I think with any rich text editor is that it never does what you want it to do at a code level and it never will unless you configure it exactly to your needs. Also people tends to be very angry when we remove or alter HTML contents that isn’t valid according to HTML specs.
    And in the case of WP the wpautop feature seems to be the cause of frustration when it comes to switching back and forth between the visual editor and the source editor.
    If it’s bugs in our code please report them. If we don’t know about them we can’t fix them. Some of them are hard or even impossible to fix due to browser limitations/bugs but most can be worked around this is what we been doing for the last 10 years.

    Markdown is sure nice for simple content and a.f.a.i.k. it was it’s intended purpose. For example handling complex content like tables in markdown like syntax is either not possible unless you do it in HTML or very tricky as in wikitext. Also it’s not a standard so the syntax for the more complex stuff seems to be a bit random when it comes to implementations similar to bbcode. Hand coded HTML is at least a standard.

    Anyway. I think the best way is to let users or web site developers decide what tool they want to use. And that is what the WP guys have done so far.

  19. @Spocke – Thanks for dropping by Spocke. I don’t think that Markdown could entirely replace TinyMCE but perhaps make way for people to start considering other options. TinyMCE is all many users have every known, so of course if you were to ask them if they want to keep it, more than likely they’d say yes, since they may not have experienced anything else. For basic blogging, it’s exciting to have Markdown in the mix. It helps to get people ready for new options in future. I’ve actually seen a lot of non-devs embracing it. Seems like most developers are more comfortable just using html. At any rate, I’m enjoying the discussion around the options for rich text editing, since it’s such a fundamental part of publishing.


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