As a user, I enjoy Markdown. However, as an instructor, I almost hate it. Most of my clients find it challenging to understand and use, especially in a world where every basic text editor has a formatting bar.
We, the Markdown enthusiasts, see it as a great invention, and it is, but it is meant for people like us. My first computer was an Apple II+ where I learned to write programs in Basic. If you are a Markdown lover, I bet you have a similar background or passion for technology. But how many people do you think there are like this in the world?
The good news is that the Obsidian team seems to be steadily figuring out a way to allow users to pick their preferred text formatting method without any hassle.
What is Markdown?
It is a set of characters used to format text in compatible editors. For example, if you put one asterisk on each side of a word or sentence, the Markdown editor will show it in italics. So, to use it, all one has to do is memorize all the symbols and use them in a compatible editor. Since there are not a lot of formatting options and, at the same time, many compatible editors exist, dominating and using Markdown is not hard. But why would one do that instead of clicking the “I” or “B” or any other formatting icon on a formatting bar?
Another way to think of Markdown is as a simpler version of HTML, which is the language used to make the pages you access online with a browser.
I learned how to create my first website back in the 1990s by looking at other people’s source code. But that’s as far as I went. I was unable to learn any other advanced programming language, even those that are only slightly more complicated than HTML. However, having this background made me look at Markdown and find it to be the easiest thing to learn and use on the planet.
I’m confident to say that people with similar backgrounds, for example, Excel enthusiasts, will also find Markdown super easy to learn and use. However, that is too much for people who only use computers as basic tools. I know this because I have seen it happen to my clients time and time again.
Trello is a great tool I use a lot in my consulting business, but it took them ages to adopt a regular text editor. Before that, the only way to format text was by using Markdown, and only a very few of my clients were willing to use it. It was rare that anyone took the time to learn it.
An entry barrier
All that said, I always saw Markdown as one of the biggest barriers to any non-tech-savvy person thinking of adopting or switching to Obsidian. Again, I’m not making assumptions here. I don’t have numbers, but I’m constantly hearing complaints from clients and reading comments on my videos and articles about how complex it is.
It’s true that one has to memorize just a handful of symbols to use it, but that’s not natural, especially when all the other text editors regular people use have a formatting bar. Most people don’t even use Ctrl+B, I, or other formatting shortcuts. Clicking on icons is significantly more intuitive.
A big step in the right direction
If you haven’t yet, I invite you to watch the video below and stay with me for a moment while I move items from one column to another on a table using Markdown. No matter how much you love Markdown, that’s insane! It’s a huge waste of time.
Thankfully, Obsidian 1.5 added a terrific table editor while keeping all the Markdown behind the scenes for the enthusiasts. Another important addition is right-clicking a word to format it or right-clicking on the note to add items like tables, paragraphs and many others. Again, the Markdown is still there.
The gradual adoption of more familiar ways to format text is a big thing. In my opinion, this is the way to go. It will attract more non-tech-savvy users while keeping the Markdown layer under the hood.
Great move, Obsidian!