Blogging with Markdown
Markdown is quickly becoming a popular style of writing for the web and in general. Since John Gruber (of Daring Fireball created it, it has been growing in how it’s used and the software designed to create it. Markdown is similar to HTML in that looking at a markdown document is somewhat readable, but the file needs to be converted into HTML which shows all of the proper formatting. Any text file can be used as a markdown file, which is the key to its success. You can write markdown in a text editor, in a web editor, on your iPhone, iPad or other tablet device. It’s cross-platform, cross-Operating System, and you don’t need any fancy software to use it.
The primary usage for markdown is publishing to the web - meaning blogs. The major blogging software (Wordpress, Movable Type, Joomla, for example) utilize plugins to convert markdown type to HTML for publishing purposes. Other blogging systems have been developed to handle markdown files exclusively. Tumblr actually allows you to type markdown into their text editor and have it converted without the need for plugins or other software.
There are lots of options out there. I will highlight a few choices from all of them to help you get into the flow of writing in markdown.
- Our favorite Markdown writing app for the iPhone
Byword is the best Markdown text editor for iPhone. It's fast and reliable, and it combines a delightful writing and editing experience built for iOS 7.
- Mac App review: Ulysses III - BrettTerpstra.com
The Soulmen have just posted Ulysses III to the Mac App Store. It brings Daedalus-style document management (similar to Scrivener) to a Markdown (and Textile) editor that's pretty special.
- Daring Fireball: Markdown
The original project page for Markdown.
- iOS Text Editors
Comparison chart of iPad and iPhone (iOS) text editing applications.
Writing in Markdown
As mentioned, markdown is like HTML. There are certain syntaxes used to create different results. It is mainly used for HTML links, images, and the formatting of text. This is what it looks like:
An [Four Sides](http://www.foursides.ca/ "Four Sides")
Pretty simple, right? Much better than having to type out <a href="www.alongurl.com">Title</a>.
Since markdown is eventually being converted into HTML, you can include HTML in your document and not have to worry about having different formats within your text document. That makes it pretty convenient when writing and wanting to embed a YouTube video or Soundcloud track.
Another example syntax is: **Text** becomes Text
You can find a full list of the syntaxes here: Markdown Syntax
Editorial in Action
Fortunately, there is a wide selection of text editors available for writing in markdown. You can use any text editor and then rename the file as “*.md” on the end, but it is easier to use a dedicated text editor for writing in markdown for one simple reason: previews.
The majority of editors, whether they are on Mac or Windows, or iOS or Android, include a way to preview your document as it would appear on the web. This is a life-saver for when wanting to fix errors before it gets published on the web.
Here is a list of options that I have enjoyed using:
Byword - my editor of choice. A great minimalist editor with a nice preview option. You can publish directly to Wordpress, Tumblr, Scriptogr.am, Blogger or create a note in Evernote. Your files can be stored either locally, iCloud, or Dropbox, making it one of the more versatile editors available. They also have a great iOS version available for iPhone and iPad, meaning you can start a document on your phone, then finish on your Mac. Great app: Byword for iOS
Mou - Mou is the app for you if you are looking for something simpler and works well. It doesn’t include as many features as Byword, for example, it can only publish to Tumblr or Scriptogr.am, no Dropbox support. It is also Mac only. That being said, it does include the preview window, choose your font or style, and auto-save. It is also free.
Ulysses is a powerful app that keeps all of your documents in one spot, allows for chapters in your documents, and more. It is designed for professional writers, but all writers will find great value in this product. Also available for iPhone and iPad, syncing with the Mac version.
MarkPad - MarkPad is a free editor for desktop Windows and Windows 8 (including mobile). It is free, includes a preview area, spellchecker, and is continually under development to allow publishing to different blog platforms. Check out the link for desktop version, or check out MarkPadRT for mobile devices.
UberWriter - UberWriter is a great looking application for Ubuntu systems. It allows you to choose a light/dark mode, a font, a focus mode to focus on the lines you are currently working on, publish to HTML, PDF, or RTF, and more. It is available in the Ubuntu Software Center for $5.00 or free through the get-apt program.
Editorial - Besides the previously mentioned Byword, Editorial is one of the go-to markdown editors for iPad. It is a powerful app, and I suggest reading Federico Vitticci’s review to get the full scope of the app. It includes a web browser in the app for quick reference, snippets for frequently used text, scriptable workflows to automate different functions, and so on. The only downside to the app is that it is iPad only - meaning you will need a different app on your phone or Mac to work on the file.
Another solid option is Writer Pro which offers all the functionality of Byword, with some key differences. Syntax highlighting is the biggest feature: highlight all the verbs, or adjectives, to help you edit out the fluff in your piece.
JotterPad X - A minimalist editor with a full feature set that every writer will want, including: choosing fonts, day/night modes, pop-up dictionary and thesaurus, publish to Dropbox or HTML, and more. It is highly rated in the store, and across the web, so it is definitely worth a look.
Popular Blogging Platforms
Some of the software mentioned above and other editors can publish directly to different blogging platforms. But what if you want to write in Markdown and publish it easily in other means?
Here are some options for all the major blogging platforms, and then some alternative options to explore if you are looking for a weekend project.
Wordpress is probably the largest blogging platform out there. You can either have it hosted on Wordpress.com or install it on your own server. After you have it installed, you can use a plugin to add Markdown compatiability.
The hosted version actually has markdown support built in. See the Wordpress Markdown announcement for how to activate it in the Dashboard and the features.
WP-Markdown is a plugin that offers some extra editing buttons in the Wordpress editor, preview, allows commenters to write in markdown and other good things. It stores the file in HTML on the site, so even if you de-activate the plugin, your work doesn’t get lost. This will be the solution used for all the self-hosted Wordpress blogs.
Here is the original plugin developed by John Gruber: Markdown for Movable Type. The plugin allows you to use a custom text-format function to convert markdown into HTML. Nothing more advanced than that.
One of the easiest options for Blogger is StackEdit, a markdown editor that lives on the web. That may be a downside to it, or an upside depending on how you work (i.e. using a Google Chromebook). StackEdit has a preview of your document, allows you to publish to Dropbox, Google Drive, and Blogger, keyboard shortcuts, and a wealth of other options. It’s a beautifully designed app for the web.
Markdown Blogging Platforms
Squarespace is the easiest way for anyone to create an exceptional website. Pages, galleries, blogs, e-commerce, domains, hosting, analytics, 24/7 support - all included.
Calepin reads Markdown-formatted, plain-text files stored in your Dropbox and converts them into blog posts for you. You can publish, edit, re-edit, and delete posts just by editing these files and then re-publishing your blog
Posthaven is the safe place for all your posts forever. Publish through email.
Publishing through Dropbox.
- Marquee: Easier, Faster, more Beautiful Publishing
An intuitive, flexible platform for telling stories. Marquee's authoring tool and infrastructure allow for publishing beautiful content faster and easier than ever before.
Authpad is a frictionless approach to blogging. Try it.
Self-hosted, requires some tech-savvy person to work out the problems.
Like Jekyll, slightly more complicated, self-hosted blog.
If you are wanting to get away from the major blogging platforms, there are a lot of options to choose from. Some offer hosting solutions, others utilize Dropbox connections for publishing, and the rest are more technical with self-hosting blog platforms. There are too many to mention, so I have decided to list the more popular ones on the side. Below, I will go through some of the highlights of two services that are best for beginners/intermediate hacker-types.
Ghost Blogging Platform
Ghost is the Kickstarter-approved blogging platform that has been development over the year to compete against Wordpress. Offering both hosted and self-hosted options, it is one of the more flexible blogging platforms available. The self-hosted option is free to download, with the only difference happening in the dashboard. The hosted option offers a 30 day free trial, and different paid options afterwards.
With Ghost, all writing happens within the application using markdown. There is a split-screen editor, with markdown on one side, the preview on the other. You are able to define the slug (www.yoursite.com/slug-goes-here), tags for the post, and the publishing date. The settings page for your blog allows you to change the usual options: blog name, description, logo, and so forth. The dashboard also has an interesting layout for your blog’s stats.
Ghost also has a marketplace available for themes. There are quite the variety of themes available, both free and paid for. Since Ghost is open source, you can easily modify the themes to suit your needs, but you will need to use a text editor to do this. This is the one downside to Ghost right now. There is no way to modify or even install a theme directly from the Ghost install. You will have to download the file separately and then upload it to Ghost after modifying it.
Ghost has only released version 0.4 of the software, though. There is still lots of room for improvement and the community is very active with its development. There are no mobile apps for editing, or native software on the various operating systems. All writing is down through the web. They do have responsive design sites for easy editing on a mobile device that look great.
If you are looking to have Ghost hosted on your own server, there are a few requirements before you begin installing, namely Node.js. Installation is not that difficult. Ghost is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. There are also prebuilt installers for all three platforms for even easier installation.
Read more about installing Ghost:
As you can see, there are a wealth of options and resources available when getting started with writing in markdown on the web. This is merely skimming the surface as markdown is constantly in development.
If there are other resources that are missing out, please mention them below.
- Tennyson Quote from Skyfall (New James Bond)
During the movie Skyfall, the character of M speaks a quote by Tennyson. The quote is from Ulysses, published in 1833. Read the full quote, plus links to the rest of Tennyson's works.
- Quote in Apple's "Your Verse" Ad
A new Apple ad was released on January 12th, 2014 about the latest iPad. It includes a quote from Dead Poet's Society,spoken by Robin Williams, which also quotes a Walt Whitman poem.