Agreeing on "Historical Markdown" (was: Re: text/markdown effort in IETF (invite))

Sean Leonard dev+ietf at
Fri Jul 11 04:54:43 EDT 2014

So this thread has a lot of content, and is leading me to revise the 
proposal a few different ways. Thanks everyone thus far; it has been 
very educational.

I would like to ask the community here with a basic question, so I can 
start to reason out from there.

It seems that there is a general consensus that Markdown is an 
open-ended informal family of syntaxes based on John Gruber's original 
work. Everything in some way traces back to the original 
script and syntax specification circa 2004. If it does not or cannot 
trace back, it's not Markdown--it's something else (e.g., reStructuredText).

At the same time, the proliferation of variations, extensions, fixes, 
tweaks, and everything else has led to a staunch lack of consensus on 
what constitutes "Standard Markdown", i.e., the Markdown in 2014 that 
/everyone ought to follow/. This is in contrast to, say, XML or 
HTML--with XML there are very strict standards of what one ought to 
follow; with HTML it's much more open-ended but at least there is one 
organization (W3C) and one "living standard" (HTML5) where people can 
glom on their kitchen-sink proposals.

Since we cannot reach consensus on what ought to be "Standard Markdown" 
today, can the community reach consensus on "Historical Markdown"--of 
which I propose three working definitions?

* Classic Markdown: The Markdown syntax or implementation, 
as implemented by John Gruber, in 1.0.1, with all ambiguities, bugs, 
frustrations, and contradictions. [In cases that the syntax and the tool 
contradict, we come up with a way to resolve the contradictions.]

* Original Markdown: The Markdown syntax or implementation, 
as implemented by John Gruber, in 1.0.2b7, with as many of the 
ambiguities, bugs, frustrations, and contradictions fixed as he actually 
fixed (or failed to fix) them. Aka "Markdown Web Dingus".

* Idealized Markdown (aka Historical Standard Markdown): The Markdown 
that everyone can agree is the way Markdown "should have been" back when 
there was One True Markdown. Basically this is Original Markdown with 
its faults duly recognized and corrected...many of these faults having 
been corrected in practice in divergent implementations (Markdown Extra 
etc.) but never officially recognized in Original Markdown.

I cannot say which of these three is better...but by recognizing these 
three as common points, we can then start to compare on the same page.


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