May 6th, 2012 at 11:05 pm by Dr. Drang
I’ve long known and accepted that regular people view me as something of an oddball, but it’s still unnerving when I discover another aspect in which I’m out of step even with the nerds who should be my off-center kith and kin. I can reconcile my dislike of Star Wars and my complete indifference to videogames to a generational difference—I was just a few years too old when they came along. But now I see the favorable reactions to Brett Terpstra’s Markdown editor wish list, and I wonder: Am I an outcast even among Markdown users?
It’s not that I have no interest in making Markdown easier to write. I have a handful of Markdown-specific TextMate commands that I’d hate to be without. But much of Brett’s list just seems unnecessary, and a couple of items strike me as distinctly wrong. I’m going to go through the list in the same order Brett did, and I’m not going to recap his descriptions, so if you haven’t read his post, this’ll mean nothing to you.
- The list starts out well. ⌘B and ⌘I for bold (strong) and italics (em)? Certainly. Intelligent indentation? Wouldn’t have it any other way.
- I can’t say I’m against list continuation, but I don’t feel unduly burdened if I have to type asterisk-space or numeral-period-space. TextMate’s current Markdown bundle does much of what Brett wants in this regard1, and I use it when writing on my MacBook Air. But when I’m writing on my old iMac, which apparently still has an old version of the Markdown bundle, there’s no list continuation, and my writing isn’t affected in the least.
- The auto-pairing and wrapping items mean nothing to me. TextMate has had auto-pairing for years, but I keep it turned off. Every time I give it a try—everyone seems to love it; let’s see how it works—it just gets in my way.
- Link pasting is one of those distinctly wrong things. Pasting means something, and it should always do the same thing. Having its behavior depend on the format of the clipboard contents is a recipe for confusion and anger.
- Tabbing to indent a selected block? OK, I guess, but I prefer a keyboard shortcut to a regular key. I like my regular keys to insert the same thing every time.2
- I have no interest in shortcuts for moving lines up and down. It doesn’t happen often enough that I’d be able to remember the shortcut, and the standard editing commands are efficient enough for me.
- Even though I’m not a big fan of auto-completion in general, auto-completion of reference titles sounds like a great idea.
- Brett’s desired shortcut for inserting footnotes is similar to a TextMate command I’ve stopped using. It turns out that Markdown3 can be tetchy about where you put the footnote text, especially when you’re in a list, so it’s generally better to place your footnote text “by hand.”
- I’m unenthused by the proposed shortcut for inserting reference links because I think my system for reference links (which puts them at the end of the document where God intended) is better.
- I doubt that I’d use the headline level conversion shortcut very often, but it seems pretty handy.
- Switching between ordered and unordered lists sounds like a useful shortcut, but I don’t see why anyone would need to convert a series of lines into a list. If you’re adding lines one after the other, you would know right from the beginning that you’re making a list.
- I can see how the blockquote level shortcut would be a real timesaver to people like John Gruber who write posts that are mostly quotes, but for those of us writing original material, inserting the occasional greater-than sign isn’t a big deal.
- Creating a list of references from URLs on the clipboard? Great idea. Same with converting inline links to reference links, even though I have no use for it.
- Using Shift-Return or Command-Return to add two spaces before the newline (to get a line break) strikes me as a terrible idea. The Markdown way of getting a line break is one of my least favorite features, because it uses invisible characters to affect the formatting.4 Having invisible characters inserted automatically compounds the problem. And really, doesn’t it take longer to remember to type Shift-Return than it does to type Space-Space-Return?
- I understand the desire to change the behavior of ⌘← and ⌘→ to stop at the last visible character, but standard editing shortcuts shouldn’t be messed with.
I guess the real problem with Brett’s list and me is that I disagree with the entire notion of a Markdown editor. Markdown is just plain text—any text editor should do just fine. By design, very few of Markdown’s formatting “commands” involve more than a few normal keystrokes—this isn’t HTML or LaTeX. Trying to remember a dozen or more hotkey combinations to do things that are both relatively rare and easily accomplished with a small amount of normal typing seems like the wrong thing to be using your brain for. And, with this as my basis, I don’t believe it’s any more efficient than just typing.
The recent popularity of Markdown editors suggests I’m on the wrong side of history here. Oh, well. I’m getting used to it.
It also screws up lists sometimes when I try to edit them, but it’s not fair to stain Brett’s wish with the bugs in a specific implementation. ↩
Actually, this applies only “enhanced” processors like MultiMarkdown and PHP Markdown Extra, as standard Markdown doesn’t have footnotes. ↩
No, I don’t have a better idea. ↩