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Mark One Off ✅

Mark One Off ✅
By Ernie Smith • Issue #184 • View online
No, it’s not the world’s biggest deal that Google Docs now supports Markdown. But it certainly feels like a friendly nod to the numerous writers that use it.
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(Rachel Scaller/Unsplash)
(Rachel Scaller/Unsplash)
I have a new hobby. Every day until it happens, I am going to go into this screen on Google Docs and look for a specific option:
That option? The phrase “Automatically detect Markdown.” See, over the years, I’ve been a pretty heavy user of Markdown, as I think I’ve made pretty clear in prior writing.
But when I edit, I almost always have to work within Google’s parameters, because I am one person and I am not going to convince all my coworkers to change to Markdown for my sake.
For me, this has meant years of:
  • Copying and pasting as rich text
  • Reformatting the rich text to match the style of the Google Doc
  • Fixing the spacing
But now, Google has figured out that, hey, it’s adding a ton of extra work for a significant subclass of its users, and it will now support Markdown conversion in Google Docs, a feather in John Gruber’s cap. This is a small feature, comical that it took so long, but at the same time, it’s welcome all the same.
Is it the whole feature set? No way. You’re not getting footnotes. You’re not getting tables. (But honestly, who uses Markdown tables, anyway?) It’s not the full spec; it’s the subset that everyone relies on—headers, bold, italics, and links.
However, Google is slow-rolling this feature out to its users, sometime over the next couple of weeks or longer. So it might be a while before I get this life-altering feature. (To anyone at Google reading this: Pick me! Pick me!)
Congratulations to @gruber for defeating the trillion-dollar might of @Google; gdocs now has Markdown. Undoubtedly the most successful Movable Type plugin of all time.
Why did it take so long? I’m just imagining some product manager somewhere in Google who has been dead-set against the idea of adding native Markdown import support, despite the fact that the best Markdown export plugin for Google Docs, Docs to Markdown, is maintained by a former Google employee who largely built it while he was working at Google, and probably every programmer at Google is exposed to Markdown within the daily course of their work (given that it’s become the de facto default format for Readme-style docs).
Nonetheless, it probably looked like a simple equation to the product manager: A small portion of our customers are using this compared to our hundreds of millions of users that use Google Apps, despite the fact that the group of users is small and passionate.
But the challenge for them is, every other app that could conceivably be considered a competitor to Docs had a decent Markdown play. Dropbox Paper and Notion support it natively, as does every other writing application you can think of; even Microsoft Word supports it through a $30 plugin
The fact that you had to convert your document to rich text before putting it into Docs created additional, and unnecessary, room for error—which seems to go against the reason for Google Docs existing.
So that Docs has markdown is sort of a sign to me that the format has gained a certain level of necessity among mainstream users.
It’s sort of like when Burger King first started selling veggie burgers back in 2002 or so; it’s not like any vegetarian is going to go out of their way to get a veggie burger from a place that famously flame-broils their beef, but if you find yourself in that restaurant and you need an option, it’s there for you.
Google Docs is not a Markdown-first app, and never will be, but for the Marketarians of the world, it just made their life easier.
Related Reads:
Lessons in Self-Hosting Your Own Personal Cloud
Bare-Metal Writing: What Our Word Processors Are Missing
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Time left on clock ⏲: 56 seconds
If you like this, be sure to check out more of my writing at Tedium: The Dull Side of the Internet.
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Ernie Smith

Hot takes in 30 minutes or less. A newsletter with an unforgiving deadline, written by Ernie Smith—who’s best known for another newsletter, Tedium.

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