June 5, 2020
Everyone needs to go off on a good rant once in a while. This is mine.
The WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) has a few fatal flaws that we’re so used to we hardly even complain anymore.
I’m sure you’ve experienced this. You’re working in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages and you carefully format your headings, paragraphs, and lists. You arrange everything just the way you want it, and then you spot a typo. When you go to fix it you erroneously hit the back space and your paragraph suddenly turns into a heading — it’s humongous! ARGH! It’s even worse when one thing throws off the next and it cascades down the page.
Many a teenager has used an expletive in a situation like this — ah, but give them time. They’ll learn that this is just part of life.
Come on! Why should we accept this kind of bad behavior from our software? Hasn’t it been something like 25 years since word processing became a thing?
The backstory is this. Behind the scenes there’s another layer in your document, and this is where all of the formatting information hides. Word processors keep this out of view because it’s visually distracting. Instead, we just have to deal with the occasional bad behavior that comes from us not really knowing what’s going on.
It’s an ugly trade-off.
Now, imagine you’re working on your website. You’re having a wonderful day, typing out your big announcement in your WYSIWYG editor, everything looks good to you so you click Publish. Off you go on your merry way. Your job is done. Birds are singing in the air…
Until someone tells you that your Home page looks broken. Oh no! Your WYSIWYG lied to you and what you saw wasn’t what you got! That sneaky visual formatting stuff that you couldn’t see didn’t quite work out the way it should have and your WYSIWYG looked OK. Now you’re frantically highlighting text to reformat it, things are shifting all over the place, something keeps misbehaving, and the whole world is watching. Yikes!
I’ve been through that too many times. (WordPress, I’m looking at you!)
So, years ago I switched to Markdown. You don’t see the formatting as you type. You don’t see your website fonts. You don’t see colors, or different text sizes. It’s literally like working on a typewriter.
It takes about 10 seconds to learn to basics of Markdown. You use a # to make your most important heading. You use ## to make your second most important heading. ** on both sides of a word makes it bold. * on both sides of a word makes it italic. This isn’t rocket science.
When you finish editing your markdown formatted text you click preview to see what everything looks like. 99% of the time it looks just like you expected.
That makes me smile. 😀 I love Markdown.
Another nice thing is your fingers never leave the keyboard. Compare that to stopping what your thinking about, moving a hand off the keyboard to your mouse, selecting your text, finding the bold button, clicking the button, then moving your hand back to the keyboard. Sheesh!
Most of the time we’re not making things bold or italic, but instead we’re just typing out our thoughts. So why did someone invent the bold button? I think it was the same kind of thinking that results in WordPress and Microsoft Word being so bloated with features. When you try to do too much the user ultimately suffers and it’s hard for them to do the one thing they really need to do.
I like SquareSpace a lot. They’re doing some good things. I almost like their page editor, until it behaves badly… but, I digress. I was helping someone with their Squarespace site just the other day and I accidentally hit the backspace (will I never learn?) and you know what happened. Everything blew up as my paragraph turned into a heading.
I’m content to keep things simple. Markdown is fast, reliable, and that means I have more time to do something else.