Standard Markdown is now Common Markdown

I think Jeff stepped in it on purpose so people would have to use his Discourse software and discuss it here. His traffic stats are way down.

Gruber should have responded. Jeff should have waited.

I would try to stay away from legal issues and instead on what constitutes “good form” and behavior.

I just don’t get it. McFarlane & Atwood et al simply stepped up to do valuable work (unremunerated afaik) that Mr. Gruber never found the time for. He should have been responsive and made common (pun intended) cause with them when first contacted.

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They already changed it to CommonMark several days ago.

Yes, but it’s defined as still being Markdown. says it’s “A strongly specified, highly compatible implementation of Markdown”, and the first subheading is “What is Markdown?”

So Github, Stackoverflow, etc, will probably continue referring to Markdown and causing people to Google it.

Whereas if they totally rename it, and say “you can edit using Hypertype” or whatever, and that just happens to look a lot like Markdown, old users will catch on quickly and new users won’t end up on Gruber’s site.

After reading your responses, it seems like you’re consistently arguing against points I’m not actually making.

  1. I never claimed people couldn’t write something similar to Markdown, nor has John Gruber. In fact he encourages that sort of thing, provided these other projects meet his license terms.

  2. I never said he “didn’t want Markdown to be used”, I was pointing out that he never intended it to be open for community input.

  3. I’m not confusing with Markdown the language/syntax. I wasn’t even getting into those specifics. My argument has to do with the name and everyone’s apparent entitlement over it. People are acting as if the name Markdown—and by extension, the project itself—belongs to the community, when it does not.

  4. “It’s silly to think some eight-letter word is off-limits just because someone else thought of it first.” Well that’s pretty much what this is about, isn’t it gleon! Plenty of other people have suggested alternative names to Markdown, because they actually exhibit the slightest amount of creativity. This concern about running out of words is so far off the point I can’t even take you seriously.

    The fact that every name on Atwood’s original list contained the word Markdown made it pretty clear what his real intentions were, especially in context with all the bemoaning he’s done about Gruber’s stewardship over the years.

    Don’t give me this crap about “bullying”. John has a right to defend what’s his. And Atwood continually gives him reason to do so.

  5. Lastly, as I’ve said, if CommonMark succeeds then that’s great! It deserves a chance to thrive on its own merits. It’s just a shame the project had to kick off on such shaky ethical (if not legal) grounds.

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Well, extending and modifying some the syntax certainly seems like one way of using it.

His licence…

I agree. I’m pretty sure it belongs to no one, actually.

Well, of course it isn’t a concern with Markdown in particular, but I like being guided by principles and if we made it a principle to allow people to take arbitrary words hostage because they were the first to think about them, we’d run out of useful words pretty soon.

I’m basically arguing the notion that it is his. Yes, he thought of it first, but you can’t own ideas (except in a limited form, governed by law).


Why can’t we simply benefit from each others’ success, and everyone benefit from the general adoption of Markdown on the web?

In order for that to happen, users need a sense of confidence that when they type a bit of Markdown on a random site, they will get consistent results. That is what CommonMark is about.

@BatmanAoD Gruber may have been snarky on Twitter, but he has always been totally professional in his emails to us (when we get a reply). The feeling is mutual. We would much rather work together if possible, unfortunately the “ambiguity is a feature” bit is an irreconcilable difference.

And just to be crystal clear, every implementation of Markdown based on the ancient 2004 code (an updated version of which, Gruber never posted in public, but can be found if you dig) is a de-facto fork, because the spec itself is so unclear in so many places.

How that could possibly be a good thing – for users, for websites, for implementers – I honestly do not understand. The divergence over time is really severe and getting worse every year.


How that could possibly be a good thing – for users, for websites, for implementers – I honesty do not understand. The divergence over time is really severe and getting worse every year.

This is another thing people always seem to misunderstand about Markdown. It wasn’t really designed for coders.

At its heart, Markdown is primarily a syntax for writers who don’t want—or know how—to write in HTML to publish their thoughts on the web. I don’t think John envisioned it being used for forums and mobile writing apps and whatever else. He’s even said as much (I’m apparently not allowed to link to Twitter right now so here’s a blockquote):

@drdrang @monkbent That’s exactly right. Markdown is for writers. That it’s maddening for devs (including me!) to implement = too bad.
1:12pm - 4 Sep 2014

And that’s why forks are great! Markdown’s inherent flexibility (or ambiguity, as you like to call it) allows it to be adapted for various purposes. Sure, it’s definitely not an implementer’s dream, but then again it was never meant to be.

Maybe CommonMark will please everyone who cares about that sort of thing. We’ll see.

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tldr version: Trademark law is complex, and dilution and generics are rarer than you think.

There are several ways that someone can use a trademark without the permission of the owner. The most important is nominative use, where you use the trademark to refer to the product or service itself. So, for example, if have a cocktail recipe which requires Coca-Cola, I can publish that without the permission of the Coca-Cola Company, because I’m referring specifically to their product. What I can’t do is imply that my recipe was created by the Coca-Cola Company, is approved by them, or anything else which would imply my product had anything to do with the Coca-Cola Company. This is why you’ll often see disclaimers which say stuff like “Company Foo are not related to The Coca-Cola Company. This product has not been approved by The Coca-Cola Company. Coca-Cola is a registered trademark of blah blah blah etc”, all of which makes it clear that there’s no attempt to confuse consumers.

So using a trademark nominatively doesn’t violate trademark, doesn’t require permission - and so can’t contribute towards the dilution of the trademark. Dilution is when a trademark starts to be used by different producers for different products - and that is something trademark holders are wise to defend, as if there’s sufficient dilatation you can lose the trademark. It’s not automatic, though: there’s no absolute need to defend in every instance, although wise companies always defend. At the extreme end of dilution is genericization, where a trademark comes to represent a whole category of products. However, Genericization is actually rarer than you think - many of the names which people think are generics aren’t (such as Hoover, for vacuum cleaners, or Biro for pens).

In the case of, say, someone building a text editor which supports syntax highlighting for Markdown, it’s likely that they wouldn’t need any permission from John Gruber. They’re using “Markdown” to refer to… well, Markdown, the product that Gruber holds a trademark over. It’s nominative use, and so presents no threat of dilution to Gruber’s trademark.

In the case of “Standard Markdown” though, there’s a difference: it’s a completely different product, from completely different people. This means that unless Gruber wanted to license the trademark to them, it would be a clear case of dilution if they were to use it - and so Gruber should defend it if he wants to keep the chances of dilution as low as possible. It wouldn’t automatically mean his trademark was diluted, but it would place it in danger.

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It makes me kind of sad that John Gruber doesn’t seem to care enough about his baby or even ignores its problems. I can agree with a lot he says about Markdown, like his point that it’s made for writers but not for coders. What he does is closing his eyes on problems that start when using Markdown as a writer. Multilevel indentation and and ordered lists are problems that have come across when I converting the Creative Commons licenses to Markdown for instance. How is that not a problem that regards writers. I wouldn’t want to use Latex for something as simple as that just because of Markdown’s own shortcomings. Just because someone doesn’t run into problems doesn’t mean they’re not there. I would have preferred to improve (or fix) Markdown because its cool starts with the name already, but well, let’s go CommonMark. I’m looking much forward to it!

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I never said coders. I said

for users, for websites, for implementers

Coders aren’t the people using Markdown these days. That might have been true in 2004 or 2008, but as Markdown becomes more and more common on average websites, regular end-users are adopting it. Take or for example. These people may be geeks, sure, but they aren’t “coders”.

That’s a pretty narrow definition of “writers”, and awfully dismissive of millions of user who “write” a lot of content in Markdown right now, every day, on the web.

No, it’s an identical product – it is 100% Markdown. To the extent that it deviates, every Markdown implementation deviates since Markdown literally cannot be implemented without ambiguity.

Is this really an appropriate example? It might be, if Coca-Cola had open sourced the recipe for Coca-Cola. Let’s refer to the definition of open source:

In production and development, open source as a development model promotes a universal access via free license to a product’s design or blueprint, and universal redistribution of that design or blueprint, including subsequent improvements to it by anyone


Jeff’s statement didn’t really contradict that. “Users” of Markdown are the writers you (and Gruber) are talking about, and even you mention “publishing their thoughts on the web,” so of course “good for websites” would be a valuable characteristic for a Markdown specification and/or implementation. And while it’s true that the purpose of any software project is user-focused, and that therefore user experience is generally more important than ease of implementation, there’s no reason to not care at all about whether or not the Markdown spec is “good for implementers.”

Those are not equivalent. Flexibility means writers (users) can easily format their text in many different ways. Ambiguity means that, having written text to be formatted, copying-and-pasting it to a different site that also uses Markdown won’t always preserve that formatting, even if both sites make a good-faith effort to follow Gruber’s specification. Given the multiple threads about extensions on the CommonMark discussion site, I wouldn’t be surprised if CommonMark quickly becomes more flexible than flavors of Markdown that conform to the original spec.


Open source doesn’t necessarily mean, however, that anyone can insist that their modifications or derived works to be merged back into the original product, though. :smile:

Also FWIW, a bit more concise (and official) definitions of open source and free software are available.

I think the biggest issue here is that the new comments aren’t at the top.

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That isn’t the case. He also said that they asked Gruber TWO YEARS AGO to be involved in the discussions on the spec. He refused.

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That exists already, and we don’t have to teach someone to use precise whitespace to do it. I regularly switch between python-markdown, Github-flavored Markdown, pandoc, MultiMarkdown, PHP-Markdown Extra, and RMarkdown. I never have to look something up or worry about whether it will produce my expected outcome.

And do you think that you will have to do so if some or all of those implementations make some changes to be consistent with the Common Markdown spec?

Don’t you think that it’s more likely that, given that what you are doing with Markdown works so consistently between all those different flavours of Markdown, that you are not touching the gnarly ambiguous areas? And that the behaviour spelled out in the Common Markdown spec is going to match the consistent behaviour you are enjoying currently?

I put it to you that if everyone adopted the Common Markdown spec perfectly, today, that neither you nor 99% of users would ever notice any difference at all. And the 1% who did notice a difference would be more likely to be pleased by that difference than annoyed.


Why did you apologize? He proofed he’s completely a jerk. He ruined any reputation he had (in my eyes he had none and now won’t earn any).
I wish you went to a court and void his rights.
Yet another illustration of a sad fact that good programmer != good person. As the result you rename a markdown project not to contain word markdown. What a drama!

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US law doesn’t require intellectual property owners to be nice in order to retain their legal rights. :wink:

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Actually Jeff, my definition is pretty wide in scope. About as wide as it gets. True to the original spirit of Markdown, you might even say!

If anything is narrow in scope, it’s the CommonMark spec, which is clearly designed for a specific kind of writing—one that involves a lot of code blocks. It’s clearly for programmers, by programmers. Not even so much as a mention of tables or footnotes? C’mon.

The entire document reads like a nerd’s dream of what Markdown should be. If anyone else had decided to take this project on—say, a group of academics or designers or journalists—it would look very different. To me it proves Gruber’s point that there is no such thing as a “single Markdown spec for everyone.”

Anyway, I’m done arguing about this. Jeff, I wish you success with CommonMark, though I believe the idea is flawed at a fundamental level. I’m sure it will hit the mark with programming-focused writers out there, at least.

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In listening to that podcast, did anyone else get the vibe that that entire conversation was rehearsed well in advance? The whole “let me guess, Jeff Atwood?” part of it pretty much sealed it for me. And from the get-go, the “did you hear about these guys trying to steal markdown” (or something along those lines) comment to start that part of the conversation already sounded rehearsed and that response from the host seemed to confirm it.

A strange observation, since CommonMark hews extremely closely to the original Markdown spec, filling unavoidable ambiguities only as necessary along the way.

If CommonMark is “made for programmers”, then so is Markdown. They’re virtually identical.

(Nobody’s ruling out footnote or table extensions, but these were non-standard extensions in Markdown as well. At least now they have a chance of being standardized and specified fully in some way.)