The Obvious Successor to Markdown

October 29, 2012 by Gabe | [mmd] |

Jeff Atwood posted an impassioned plea for a new Markdown standard. I read his post several times and I keep coming to the same conclusion. He wants MultiMarkdown.

I propose that Stack Exchange, GitHub, Meteor, Reddit, and any other company with lots of traffic and a strategic investment in Markdown, all work together to come up with an official Markdown specification, and standard test suites to validate Markdown implementations. We've all been working at cross purposes for too long, accidentally fragmenting Markdown while popularizing it.

I don't understand the obvious omission of Fletcher Penny's MultiMarkdown (MMD).1 MMD has a very clear specification. It also has an openly available test suite. Is the issue that it is not a consortium of companies that Jeff likes? Nowhere does he mention MMD and it seems very unlikely that he does not know about it.2

Later Jeff lays out his ideas around a Markdown standard:

  1. A standardization of the existing core Markdown conventions, as documented by John Gruber, in a formal language specification.
  2. Make the three most common real world usage "gotchas" in Markdown choices with saner defaults: intra-word emphasis (off), auto-hyperlinking (on), automatic return-based linebreaks (on).
  3. A formal set of tests anyone can use to validate a Markdown implementation.
  4. Some cleanup and tweaks for ambiguous edge cases that exist in Markdown due to the lack of a formal specification.
  5. A registry of known flavor variants, with some possible future lobbying to potentially add only the most widely and strongly supported variants (I am thinking of the GitHub style code blocks which are quite nice) to future versions of Markdown.

If I understand what he is looking for, then I think he will be happy to learn that some of these problems have been solved by MMD. Importantly, Fletcher is developing MMD in the open with input from the community. Fletcher even attempted to create a supporting applications list, although it has not been updated in quite some time. He has done an amiable job that should receive some kudos and support. Heck, just his MultiMarkdown guide is a piece of considerable work.3

I'm probably off the mark. Jeff is extremely smart and talented. I assume I am missing something, but I understand why Jeff is looking for a more capable and supported version of Markdown. I don't understand why MultiMarkdown is not it.

UPDATE: John MacFarlane, the superman behind PEG Markdown makes an appearance in the comments for Jeff's post. He sounds interested in helping with making a standard. It still feels weird that Jeff's original article doesn't mention either his or Fletcher's MMD.


  1. As pointed out in the comments, PEG Markdown is the basis for MMD. Same question still stands though. 

  2. Granted, Jeff can't possibly know about every topic on StackOverflow. But a topic so closely related to a markup language he loves, probably crossed his path a few times. 

  3. Github flavor of the docs 

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