The Lumber Room

"Consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them"

The pefect (non-)markup solution

with 4 comments

I just found something that’s amazing in its simplicity, and yet neatly solves a problem. Maybe you’ve sometimes wondered how to markup your email (perhaps in cases where you want the same text to be reusable) and yet retain its readability. (I have a friend who sometimes writes email in TEX markup, which is just incredibly wrong and annoying.) There is a solution that is as close to perfect as imaginable: Markdown. Its Basics page was itself written in Markdown. The syntax is perfectly readable; it is available on Ubuntu and Debian, and can even be generated from HTML, in case one wants to go in the other direction. It even has a Wikipedia article, and (even without looking!) I’m sure it’s the best “lightweight markup language” there is. There seems to be a markdown mode for Vim, but no “standard” mode for Emacs yet. (But with such good and readable syntax, who needs an Emacs mode, anyway?) There is a comparison here. There are converters from MarkDown to other formats (such as LaTeX), see Pandoc (written in Haskell!) and MultiMarkdown.

Another thing that looks impressive (and even more useful, because it is well-integrated into Emacs) is Emacs Muse, can be published to a lot of formats, including DocBook and LaTeX. Documentation here, and someone’s personal notes here.
I haven’t tried either of them yet.

[Update] Emacs Muse is nice, but it’s really not polished enough yet. (Either that, or if it’s not going to change then I don’t like it.) There are no nested lists yet. (It does now.) Markdown says

The overriding design goal for Markdown’s formatting syntax is to make it as readable as possible. The idea is that a Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions. While Markdown’s syntax has been influenced by several existing text-to-HTML filters, the single biggest source of inspiration for Markdown’s syntax is the format of plain text email.

That doesn’t seem to be Emacs Muse’s “overriding design goal” to me (I need to figure out why I feel so, but somehow the syntax feels kludgy and seems to have many bad corner cases).
As I see it, the most powerful and compelling features of Emacs Muse are

  1. The entire publishing system, where you can take a document and publish to multiple formats based on syntax translation rules, keeping a daily journal, etc. (planner-el depends on Emacs Muse for some of its functionality.)
  2. Its integration with Emacs

Frankly, IMHO, the actual markup language is not one of its greatest features, and it would be great if they used — or allowed plugging in — other existing languages.

(Update-update: This does seem to be the idea, or at least was at some point of time. See this thread, which contains a file that provides some MarkDown support in Muse.)
[End update.]


Written by S

Sun, 2006-11-05 at 21:18:55

4 Responses

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  1. Instead markdown, I’m using Emacs Muse. It’s derived from emacs-wiki mode. It has similar markup sintax, but more powerfull.

    I’ve made my homepage with muse, and use muse to write articles for blog.

    Emacs Muse publish to following format:

    Various journal output formats

    Roman Lagunov

    Sun, 2006-11-05 at 22:33:58

  2. Hi,
    Thanks for the advice.
    As you might notice, I’m using this wordpress thing as a way of taking down personal notes for myself and not really a blog (although I sometimes do use “you” as if the reader is someone else!), and I’m beginning to think it might be more worthwhile to switch to Emacs Muse… I’ll be sure to investigate more about its features and whether I like it, soon.


    Mon, 2006-11-06 at 13:02:57

  3. Hi! I came across this entry today.

    As of Emacs Muse 3.03, it has support for nested lists. I’m releasing Muse 3.11 later tonight, hopefully, which will fix a slew of bugs.

    Michael Olson

    Sat, 2007-08-25 at 08:03:09

  4. A quick note from the original designer of Muse: You’re right, I wouldn’t consider the markup format to be its best characteristic. Many of the eccentric choices you’ve noticed are because I was aiming at intuitive familiarity for Emacs users: markup you might use in Gnus, or footnote.el, or other modes. So, the choices were made for the sake of similarity to other Emacs modes, not as a ground-up design based on what would be best in a textual markup language.

    The strength of Muse, though, is its internal structure. It could well support Markdown as either an input or an output format, and still retain all of its strengths and sexy Emacs integration.

    John Wiegley

    Sat, 2008-05-03 at 05:28:06

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