writing tools that use light-markup

Bowerbird at aol.com Bowerbird at aol.com
Thu Jul 7 16:11:41 EDT 2011

let's talk about writing tools that use markdown
(or more broadly, another form of light-markup)...

to begin with, there is the markdown "dingus"...

from a demo perspective, it has been _fantastic_.
it has provided interested observers a quick idea
about the simplicity and the power of markdown.

as a writing tool, it's a bit clunky; it will work, yes,
but i'd doubt many people are using it regularly...
as an additional concern, it's badly hobbled by the
limited nature of markdown as gruber pictures it.

i know michel has a dingus as well, but his seems
to be limited to a relatively small amount of text;
thus, it doesn't work adequately as a writing tool.
(the same problem plagues the babelmark page.)
also, the dingus doesn't support the latest version,
so it's still lagging somewhat in the "power" arena.

as far as i know, these are the only web-based tools.
(i've built a dingus for z.m.l., but i don't promote it.)

if you know of any others, i'd love to hear about 'em.
(it'd be sweet if google docs supported light markup.)


jumping over to the app side, things get fractured...

in addition to the usual mac/windows segmentation,
we now have an ios/mac gulf as well. there's also a
distinction amongst apps that can utilize "the cloud",
and therefore straddle our prior app/web distinction.

there are many text-editors -- probably any of 'em --
which can utilize markdown as a service. most of you
probably use textmate or bbedit, because you're geeks.
more power to you, dudes, but i'd doubt your mothers
would use your particular solution, so it doesn't count.
i love mothers, since they _are_ in my target audience.

by far the most interesting category these days is ios,
especially when coupled with a cloud-based solution.

iawriter is getting a lot of attention. i'm not sure why,
since its overall write-one-line-at-a-time premise is
myopic to the point of stupid, but that's hype for you.
also, iawriter uses a "reduced" form of markdown, one
which only supports headlines, lists, and blockquotes,
so the label has been marketed down to almost zilch.

i'm using an app called "nocs", which i find adequate.
nocs works very nicely with dropbox, so that's neat...
nocs uses "discount", which i am given to understand
is the only (or easiest?) library for ios. if you are one
of the developers of the other variants of markdown,
i'd guess you might fret about competing against ios.

just to share my own experience, i find that i can write
(and rewrite) quite nicely on the ipad, thank you kindly.
(that line about it being "only for consumption" is bull.)
especially with a hardware keyboard, writing is a breeze.

which is not to say nocs uses the (limited) screen-space
wisely -- it doesn't. i'd love to have a split-screen view,
half for editing, the rest for rendering the .html output.

(but at least nocs _will_ render its .html output for me;
iawriter isn't that "fancy" yet, assuming it ever will be.)

there are probably a dozen more ipad apps for writing
that use markdown, but those are the two that i know of.

these ipad apps dovetail an established desktop trend
favoring "distraction-free" writing environments, like
writeroom or ommwrite. who coulda seen that ascetic
would be the new aesthetic? the problem with _some_
of these desktop apps (which've been ported to ipad) is
they "settle" for plain-text as their output, rather than
utilizing light-markup to up the quality of that output.
it's also the case that some still lack full cloud support.
another problem is some of 'em are not on windows...
but i guess this flaw will dwindle as windows dwindles.
(can you believe we starting saying that 15 years ago?
sometimes the tenacity of mediocrity just amazes me.)

finally, the notion that .html output is sufficient is one
that is increasingly being called into question. there is,
of course, a long history for .pdf. i find it quite amusing
that many markdown developers consider it adequate to
distribute product in .pdf form. it's surprisingly hard to
track down the multi-markdown manual qua markdown,
but the .pdf version is presented up front on the website.
and that recent paper, on syntax highlighting on-the-fly,
was distributed as a .pdf, with no markdown file in sight.

one of the best arguments for light-markup is that .pdf is
"a roach motel" where text goes in, but cannot come out,
not without having its formatting significantly mangled...
and .html is only slightly better, in terms of remixability.

light-markup -- which can be easily repurposed as well as
converted into whatever form the recipient might like -- is
obviously the best way to distribute documents to the world.

but how do you expect the world to come to understand that
if light-markup people themselves don't use this capability?

at any rate, in our world, even .html and .pdf aren't enough,
because we now have kindles and ipads which want e-books
in the form of .mobi and .epub files. (both of these formats
_suck_goats_, by the way, if compared to light-markup files,
but the technocrats who devised those formats were _idiots_,
and, for the immediate present at least, we're stuck with 'em.)

so ideally we want a program that will produce e-book output,
as well as .html and .pdf. and it should be cross-platform too,
not just for windows and the mac, but also mobile platforms...

and mostly, coming full circle, it should have the qualities of
the dingus, in communicating quickly and easily the _appeal_
of light-markup, in terms of its _simplicity_ and its _power_...

how about you? what do you think? anyone using scrivener?
or how about afkwriter, has anybody here tried out that beta?

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