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30 October 2012, 10:28

Markdown may be defined as a standard

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Markdown icon An effort is emerging to take the Markdown plain text formatting conventions originally developed by John Gruber in 2004 and create a standardisable specification. Markdown's syntax allows a minimal set of plain text 'markup' characters to offer useful basic formatting, for example, underlining text with "=" or "-" makes the text a heading as does preceding text with one to six "#" symbols. The apparent simplicity of the format has seen it used on many blogs, Reddit, GitHub and other sites as a way for users to present formatted text through the system. With this wide take up, developer Jeff Atwood, co-founder of Stack Overflow, has called for a standardisation of Markdown.

Gruber has not set out to lead any Markdown project, having written it for his own use, and companies who have adopted it have come up with their own variations, often simply because of the lack of a specification. Gruber's original BSD-licensed Markdown implementation was in Perl; other developers have ported or created their own versions for other languages.

Atwood's own call was in response to a call from David Greenspan, creator of Etherpad and now working at Meteor, who was concerned by the lack of a formal spec and tests. Atwood is currently looking for Gruber's blessing to carry the project forward; Gruber's initial comment on the subject was "If you liked the original, which I created dictatorially, what makes you think you’d like a sequel from/by a committee?" Atwood has since reported that Gruber is now considering the idea. The issue is somewhat contentious given that Atwood has previously criticised Gruber's lack of project leadership, but it is hoped by many that, even if Gruber's support is lacking, the standardisation process moves forward even if under a different name.


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