WordPress Developer Tom McFarlin Advocates Markdown As A Choice Not A Standard

Tom McFarlin has published an awesome blog post about developer’s tunnel vision. The gist of the post is that although Markdown is a simplified markup language that makes it easier to format and style content, it shouldn’t be forced onto users. In the post, Tom goes on to say:

To that end, I will always advocate for markdown being a choice – not a standard – for people to draft their content, but I also believe that it’s important we not expect non-technical users to want to author their content in that way.

When we wrote about support for Markdown being added to WordPress.com and then through Jetpack as a module, some questioned whether it would outright replace the TinyMCE editor in WordPress. The reviews were mixed but I’m glad to see TinyMCE isn’t going anywhere. In fact, WordPress 3.9 will have a shiny new version of TinyMCE for users to play with.

Header Code In Markdown
Header Code In Markdown

One thing I’ve enjoyed since we started using Stargazer by Justin Tadlock is the visual editor. In Stargazer, Justin modified editor-style.css so that the content within the visual editor looks just like it would if it were published. It brings users closer to the principle of what you see is what you get. I bring this up because Tom drafts all of his posts in WordPress using the visual editor instead of using Markdown. He explains why:

As someone who enjoys writing, programming, and obviously markdown, I can also say that I’m someone who drafts all of his posts in the WYSIWYG editor of WordPress using editor-style.css because, when done right, it helps me to see clearly see what my content is going to look like when it’s published, and shortcuts save me just as much time as do syntax of markdown.

Thank you Tom for advocating choice instead of forcing Markdown on users as the standard to formatting content. I agree with Tom’s last statement in his post and it bears repeating. “Give ‘em the choice of how they want to write; otherwise, we risk making something that should be fulfilling – that is, writing and publishing – a bit of a frustrating chore.

21 Comments


  1. Are there people out there saying that Markdown is something users want? I didn’t realize anyone outside of development circles even knew what Markdown is. I can’t believe any sane developer believes a normal (i.e. non-technical) WordPress user even knows what Markdown is, let alone understands the syntax.

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    1. Well, it was added to WordPress.com and it’s now a Jetpack module so that signifies someone wanted it :P

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  2. Agreed.

    I’m a sort of an “in the middle” person. I don’t code at all, yet I’m more technical than the “average user.” Many people break out into hives at the mere sight of a single HTML tag. Obviously Markdown, though simpler, probably isn’t for them. Markdown isn’t a replacement for the VISUAL editor… it’s a replacement for the TEXT editor. As that, it’s just cleaner, faster, and easier.

    I personally don’t like the visual editor because it’s sloppy, doesn’t do exactly what I want, likes to strip out things I put in, etc. So I always used the Text editor. I’ve been enjoying Markdown on Ghost, Editorially, and Tumblr, and now at last, on WordPress too.

    What, what?? Stargazer?? Ooh… must go look!…

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  3. Tom is right on the money. The Markdown obsession is a developer obsession. Requiring people to learn machine syntax to write human code is not the right direction to go for a human-centric application. Markdown is great for what it’s designed for: writing HTML. The WordPress editor is designed to write content. They are two different things.

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    1. When trying to write content in Markdown, it became immediately clear that it was something developed by programmers for programmers. So, I gave up and stuck with good ole HTML.

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  4. Agree completely with Tom. I use the WYSIWYG editor by default to compose my posts. It’s easy to use, has decent shortcuts to speed up writing and you can always switch to the text editor when you want.

    Markdown is a good enough language to work with, but I also think it’s slower to type in Markdown than using the WYSIWYG editor. e.g. It’s just faster using CTRL+B vs. typing the ** before and after a word.

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    1. I tried to write this post in Markdown and gave up. Opted for keyboard shortcuts in the visual editor. Thanks to the efficient use of editor-style.css mention in the article, the visual editor is a blast to use. It’s not so much of a pain as it used to be.

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  5. Strongly disagree—it should be a standard feature, along *with* TinyMCE, because then it would force them to take it seriously and work on implementing it in a way that encourages mainstream adoption.

    The problem with WP’s markdown implementation, as it stands, is that it doesn’t support key commands, and assumes people want a bare editor. It should, and they don’t. I get the serious impression that WP doesn’t put much effort, if any, into the code editor side of things—assuming that all people who understand HTML want is a plain text editor.

    To be fair, a LOT of platforms that implement MD get this wrong.

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    1. Decisions, not Options. Adding another way to edit content is only going to make editing a site more complicated just to appease a small group of highly technical people.

      I’d be completely comfortable using Markdown (although I don’t see the point), but I make a lot of sites for very low-tech users, and the idea of expecting them to use Markdown is downright absurd.

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  6. editor-style.css is great, and surprisingly easy to implement. I’ve even got it to reflect changes made in the Customizer and the page template. There’s really no excuse for theme developers to ignore it. It’s possible to get near 100% WYSIWYG, apart from shortcodes and the fact some content is represented by a placeholder. The only issue I’ve had is images with captions, which are trickier due to the different markup in the editor.

    The fact that Markdown keeps coming up as a suggestion for WordPress just shows me how insular the development community can be. They really need to expose themselves to the average non-technical users. They’d realise that Markdown is a laughable suggestion for improving the editing experience.

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  7. Where is the common sense in something like Markdown? The web is built on HTML so when i switch into code mode in the editor i fully expect to be working in HTML, not some other language. There is no need to reinvent the foundation principles of how the web works.

    BTW, since day one i have avoided Tiny MCE because it modifies my HTML. I have always used CKEditor so i can use all tags in the normal way (script excluded of course).

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  8. I don’t see any reason to include markdown in WordPress. It’s just an extra complexity to confuse people with. HTML is fine for writing code with and a visual editor makes sense for viewing things visually. Adding an extra system into the mix is just going to confuse people IMHO.

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    1. Markdown support via Jetpack is a great compromise. I doubt Markdown support will be added to core anytime soon. editor-style.css has given me a renewed happiness for the Visual editor.

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  9. After upgrading to WP 3.9 here in April 2014, I’m suddenly feeling Markdown is no longer necessary as TinyMCE (updated as well) just made adding text from a word processor much easier. As I’m not overly familiar with Markdown, I’m open to additional considerations from those who have seen 3.9 and understand Markdown.

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    1. Not sure I understand. Sure, TinyMCE in WordPress 3.9 now automatically strips away the special formatting when pasting from Word which saves you a step. But what does that have to do with Markdown? Markdown is just an alternative method to writing content.

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      1. My reason for wanting to use Markdown was because HTML editor (text view) for WP seemed overly complex. Markdown simplified that. Visual editor didn’t seem like it would be able to handle what HTML/Markdown delivers. Now it does. The alternative writing method (Markdown) seems far less necessary to me at this point. But I comment here because I’m open to the idea that perhaps I’m overlooking something that Markdown provides that visual editor (in 3.9) cannot deliver.

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      2. Yeah, I can see how Markdown would be beneficial in the Text version of the editor. DO you primarily use the Text editor and not the visual editor? If so, why? I don’t know of any particular benefits Markdown has over the visual editor. It should be noted though that once you write posts with Markdown, you’re stuck with leaving the Markdown plugin active. Or, you’ll just need to edit those posts if you change your mind.

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      3. I primarily use visual editor, but will use text editor for various reasons. Usually to double check HTML formatting and manipulate things that visual editor couldn’t previously handle. Markdown strikes me as way to manipulate HTML in way that is more simple than HTML markup.

        Anyway, I don’t know enough about Markdown to comment accurately here, so I’ll bow out of this discussion, but just wanted to note that 3.9 / TinyMCE upgrade appears to make for less reliance on having to manipulate text through text editor. Being able to copy / paste from ANY word processor into WP (visual) editor seems like significant upgrade over previous versions of WP. But I recognize that the upgrade is not the end all – be all that my comments are alluding to.

        Thanks for your prompt responses!

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      4. Have you had a chance to use the Visual editor in a theme that contains a editor-style.css so that the visual editor shows you the content the way it would look as if it were published? It’s very cool. Also, I also switch back and forth between Text and Visual since the Visual editor doesn’t play nice with everything. But, the keyboard shortcuts in the visual editor to bold, emphasize, etc are amazing productivity boosters. Have you used those? Using Markdown in the Text editor to me is the equivalent of using keyboard shortcuts in the visual editor. Both methods are really fast.

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