When you do a lot of writing aimed at publishing online, you know that sooner or later, something is going to spit out your writing in HTML format. HTML formatted text sits somewhere just above ASCII text in a hierarchical system that exists mostly in my mind. Basically the layers run from handwriting in a notebook up to publication in a physical book. Not all of that is clear, but I see ASCII text in an editor as the baseline of digital writing. It’s unformatted but digitally portable and easily transferred between devices and networks. HTML is too, but has the advantage of being formatted for easy, and more useful reading.
The thing is, HTML is messy. With the angle braces and the opening tags and the closing tags and inline CSS and all of that… it makes the text itself hard to read unless you render it using a web browser. In other words, you need an extra tool to make HTML truly useful.
In between ASCII and HTML there’s a happy medium, and it’s called Markdown. Developed by John Gruber at Daring Fireball, Markdown is a way to provide formatting and readability for your writing in a plain text editor while leaving your text portable and convertible into other formats, like HTML. Using simple tags you can make words bold or italicized, you can add different levels of headers, you can create links, include images, and more. It’s easy to learn and even easier to use.