Wikipedia explains it like this: “Markdown is a lightweight markup language, originally created by John Gruber and Aaron Swartz allowing people ‘to write using an easy-to-read, easy-to-write plain text format, then convert it to structurally valid XHTML (or HTML)’. The language takes many cues from existing conventions for marking up plain text in email.”
I’d explain it this way: it’s a much quicker, easier way for me to create HTML than by typing out the HTML by hand, or even by using a WYSIWYG like Dreamweaver (it’s also orders of magnitude cheaper than Dreamweaver as well!). I can also export my Markdown to other formats as well, like RTF, PDF, and text. The fact that a Markdown file is just a text file is a big bonus, as that means I can read & edit the file using standard tools (that also future-proofs my Markdown as well, since plain text files will be readable far into the future). Finally, it seems like a good thing to learn, as it’s exploding in popularity, with great software tools appearing all the time & growing website support.
Learning Markdown is actually very easy. John Gruber & Aaron Swartz invented Markdown, but he purposely kept it fairly simple. Fletcher Penney extended it by adding more syntax & then called his additions MultiMarkdown. The editors mentioned later all support MultiMarkdown, so I’d start with the basics of Markdown and then move on to MultiMarkdown.
You can enter Markdown in any text editor & then generate HTML or other formatted files, but this requires a conversion tool of some sort that can be difficult or at least nerdy to use. Fortunately, there are now specific editors that let you write in Markdown and then automatically generate HTML (or more than that). Here are the best.
Mac OS X
$10 at the Mac App Store
- Really nice Markdown editor
- Word & character count at bottom of window
- Preview mode
- Export HTML, PDF, RTF, Word, LaTeX
- Supports Mac OS X technologies & UI (Full screen, Versions, Autosave, & Resume)
Free while in beta; commercial when 1.0 is released
- Syntax highlighting
- Live preview
- Incremental search with pattern matching
- Auto-complete text
Your choices for Windows are a lot more limited, as it seems most Markdown editors are written for Mac OS X. But here’s one that looks decent, although it’s written in Adobe AIR. That makes it cross-platform, but it also means that it can’t take advantage of specific Windows technologies.
- Live preview
- Integrated Markdown cheatsheet
I found one online Markdown editor that looks interesting, although it’s basic.
Jon Combe: Online Markdown Editor
- OS-independent—you just need a web browser
- Nice, easy way to learn the basics of Markdown
- Flexible layout
You can see this page’s Markdown if you like. It might help you start learning the basics of Markdown!