on the philosophical aspects of a specification

James Grimmelmann james at grimmelmann.net
Fri Mar 7 08:01:31 EST 2008

On Mar 7, 2008, at 5:17 AM, Aristotle Pagaltzis wrote:

> Hi Yuri, Weylan and Seumas,


> * Yuri Takhteyev <qaramazov at gmail.com> [2008-03-07 08:50]:

>>>> *hello **dear* boy**


>>> That's a very good question. Here's a counterquestion: what

>>> does a human reader see in that text?


>> When I try to look at this with my normal-person eye, what I

>> see here is incorrect markup


> Sorry, but if you see “markup” (much less “incorrect markup”)

> you’re not looking at it with a normal-person eye. :-)


>> So, the user will type in something like this and get

>> "<em>hello **dear</em> boy**". Not much of a tradegy. They will

>> say, oh, silly me, must have screwed something up. (They did!)

>> Then they'll go and fix it. I am all for flexibility, but not

>> to the point of trying to divine the meaning of ambiguous or

>> ill-formed markup.


> Only a small minority will do that. Most people most of the time

> don’t care enough about that particular piece of text to actually

> fix any small nits in it, any more than they’ll care to fix all

> of their small spelling and grammar mistakes. (Less, actually.)

> That has certainly been my experience on wikis and weblogs that

> use shorthand markups like Markdown.

Given that, I would take advantage of the fact that Markdown source is
highly readable. If an input is too ambiguous, leave it unparsed.
The source will be reasonably clear. As the rules get more complex
and try to make assumptions about what authors intended, there will be
more cases in which the rules get it wrong and the output contains
something that's both unintended and harder to puzzle out than the
source would have been.


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