How can we get more non-programmers involved?


#1

This community is doing a great job at moving Markdown forward. However, I’m concerned that the population of this forum is made up mostly (perhaps entirely) of programmers. A project without diversity has the potential to be worse off because it does not benefit from a wider range or perspectives and experiences.

In particular, when discussing the syntax I’ve seen lots of comments about what is easier or safer for the parser. Valid concerns, but these were never the primarily goal of Markdown. Readability was always a priority over ease of programming. In Gruber’s own words, “I had to program the original implementation. Me, the syntax designer, drove me, the programmer, nuts.” We shouldn’t be uncritical of Gruber’s views of course, but in this case I think his comment reflects the philosophy of Markdown. It is primarily for writers, not programmers. So why are primarily programmers discussing the syntax for proposed CommonMark extensions?

To achieve the goal of a beautiful, easy to read, easy to write lightweight markup language (that can be used for a wide range of purposes) we ought to look at the wider community of writers. To achieve this goal, it may not be enough simply to guess what writers want. So I propose that we attempt to get more non-programmers to join in the discussions here. Out of the various Markdown flavours, I particularly like much of what @jgm has done with the syntax found in Pandoc’s Markdown and I suspect much of that comes from his experience writing in academia, rather than as a programmer. It seems likely that other writers would provide valuable proposals and feedback on extension syntax.


#2

Good point. One additional question:

How likely is it, that regular people / writers (not programmers, not web developers…) will ever like writing markup? They are used to WYSIWYG since years in almost every application.


#3

I have no programming skills and I am often writing everything in markdown when school (vocational college) doesn’t force me to use Microsoft Office or similar. I am also contributing to some documentation files at GitHub which are usually in markdown (or in rare cases ReST, but it’s minority there).


#4

It is a good question. I consider writing in Markdown like riding a bike, whereas WYSIYWG users are still using trainer wheels. Causal riders aren’t going do well if they jump on a bike straight away, but they will be faster and more agile if they learn they skill.

Hybrid apps could be an option for people who would rather a more visual writing experience while still being able to collaborate with writers using non-WYSIWYG apps like iA Writer. Perhaps a replacement to .doc could be made from a combination of Markdown + CSS and editable in a Microsoft Word style editor.


#5

Once the mail clients start to support markdown won’t be that difficult.


#6

Are there any examples heading in this direction?


#7

I can probably convince the trojita authors to consider this. Anybody knows somebody working on webmail clients that might have interest?


#8

Hmmm… what might help is if we have a “Rage Button” in markdown editors (online or offline apps), that allows ordinary people to register their complaints against commonmark specs. Think of it as a bug report on usability.

E.g. somebody getting frustrated with a particular rendering or syntax.


#9

+++ Michael [Oct 23 14 08:31 ]:

How likely is it, that regular people / writers (not programmers, not web developers…) will ever like writing markup? They are used to WYSIWYG since years in almost every application.

To take just one example I’m familiar with, I think a lot of scholars in the humanities are seeing the attractions of writing in something like Markdown. (One attraction is that they can, through pandoc, get really clean conversion into multiple output formats, including EPUB, and they can produce better typography than in MS Word, without having to learn LaTeX.) I see more articles like this all the time.


#10

Yes, that would be nice and I see your conversion/export argument.

My question here is, if they will write Markdown or if WYSIWYG editors for Markdown will be the way to go. Giving the convenience they are used from office tools and the benefits of a modern markup like Markdown.


#11

Maybe it’d be useful to run house ads for the Common Mark on some of the non-programming StackExchange sites (or even put something near the editing fields for people who are writing answers or questions).


#12

I have to admit I find the premise of this topic quite odd.

Very few of the Stack Exchange sites are about programming. Count them yourself if you like:

http://stackexchange.com/sites?view=list#traffic

Very few Discourse instances are about programming, as it is a social discussion tool. Ditto for Reddit.

Almost all my comments about Markdown have to do with observing “regular” people – who are at most computer savvy, a far cry from being programmers – attempt to figure it out with the minimal help provided, multiplied by the number of times I have to go in and edit to fix up their mess.

(And #1 with a bullet is the crlf / line break issue. Users simply expect to press enter and get a new line, no matter what. Any discussion of “user friendly” syntax is utterly pointless until you address the galaxy sized elephant in the room.)


#13

+++ Jeff Atwood [Oct 27 14 06:04 ]:

(And #1 with a bullet is the crlf / line break issue. Users simply expect to press enter and get a new line, no matter what. Any discussion of “user friendly” syntax is utterly pointless until you address the galaxy sized elephant in the room.)

Some do (though if they’re used to Word, what they really expect is a new paragraph—and nobody is suggesting that CommonMark behave that way!). Others don’t. Hard wrapping was absolutely standard in plain text email for a long time (not just by programmers). And, in reading, it’s natural to read hard-wrapped text as a single paragraph. So, again, I must disagree.

I know this is a common complain that you’ve gotten on your user-focused sites, but I’d like to suggest that there’s a selection bias here. If you have a site that does not treat newlines as hard breaks, you’ll get complaints from people who expect the other behavior. But, if you have a site that does treat newlines as hard breaks, you’ll get complains from people who expect to be able to hard-wrap paragraphs (indeed, I note several such complaints on this site). (I would have complained to you, and to github, for rendering my hard-wrapped paragraphs as ugly jagged typographical monstrosities, but I’m too lazy.)


#14

Or we could have a common document declaration standard that allows for specifying if the user intends for hardwrapping or not. And leave the base default settings up to the administrator of a website.


#15

This topic was intended to address the general population of this forum, rather than the authors of the spec (listed on the front page of commonmark.org), some of whom no doubt have a lot of experience with writers of Markdown.

In particular, the block directives discussion stands out as a syntax designed by the minds of programmers. This is not intended to offend anyone who contributed to that discussion, but the impression I get is that we’re moving away from Markdown as a language that is appealing to writers. That’s a direction that I hope CommonMark can avoid.


#16

[quote=“jgm, post:13, topic:833”]But, if you have a site that does treat newlines as hard breaks, you’ll get complains from people who expect to be able to hard-wrap paragraphs (indeed, I note several such complaints on this site). (I would have complained to you, and to github, for rendering my hard-wrapped paragraphs as ugly jagged typographical monstrosities, but I’m too lazy.)
[/quote]

It does seem that people expect new lines to represent new paragraphs, but from the readability point of view it can be hard to see that a new line is a new paragraph. If the last line of the previous paragraph is the full width of the text editor, there is no way of telling that a new paragraph has started just by looking it the text. The same is true of line breaks.


#17

I moved 3 posts to a new topic: Lists without a list indicator character?


#18

In the context of this thread: I’m a software engineer and unfamiliar with the intimacies of the spec.

I feel that the exact interface I used to compose this comment on talk.commonmark fulfills a large number of my use cases, with emphasis on:

  • Wiki style editing
  • Composition of short form content, akin to emails
  • Instant preview capabilities
  • Trial and error learning

With that in mind, my selfish question:
Is the code underlying this editor open-source, and available to be incorporated into other apps?

Less selfish question:
Is there a ‘quickstart’ guide anywhere that could get an ‘ignorant’ user capable of composing a simple post? I’d be happy to begin or contribute towards such a guide.


#19

+++ Colin Fergus [Jan 26 15 23:36 ]:

In the context of this thread: I’m a software engineer and unfamiliar with the intimacies of the spec.

I feel that the exact interface I used to compose this comment on talk.commonmark fulfills a large number of my use cases, with emphasis on:

  • Wiki style editing
  • Composition of short form content, akin to emails
  • Instant preview capabilities
  • Trial and error learning

With that in mind, my selfish question:
Is the code underlying this editor open-source, and available to be incorporated into other apps?

I believe it is, but @codinghorror should be able to point you in the right direction.

Less selfish question:
Is there a ‘quickstart’ guide anywhere that could get an ‘ignorant’ user capable of composing a simple post? I’d be happy to begin or contribute towards such a guide.

Currently your best bet is to use John Gruber’s original Markdown docs.
http://daringfireball.net/projects/markdown/basics

There’s a thread in this forum about developing a CommonMark-specific guide. You might offer to help there.


#20

Some do […] Others don’t.

Sure.

So, again, I must disagree.

I don’t think this is a point to agree or disagree about. It’s a matter of preference for the two of you, but when it comes to the spec shouldn’t this be resolved by more than anecdotal data?
The supposition that there is some selection bias could be addressed by advertising a survey on platforms that have implemented either approach (and comparing their response profiles) + ideally some markdown-naive people.
I’d venture another hypothesis: older people tend to want to be be able to hard wrap their paragraphs and view them as soft wrapped. Surely it depends a little on what sort of email client you were reared on.

For what it’s worth, I am also in contact with a lot of non-programmer academics using markdown. Many complained before I switched my software to hard line breaks, none since.