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Markdown and Byword: A Perfect Combo for Digital Media Professionals?

by Kerry Dawson
Fed up with the plethora of software and formats which he’s had to use for a long time, digital media coordinator and DailyMacView.com contributor Alain Latour gives Markdown a try. Alain’s hope? To erase formatting and compatibility issues from his work days. Here’s what he found.

Not my own setup, but you get the idea.
*© “Apple Workstation” by Loris. *

I earn a living working in digital media. That means I use Tumblr, Blogger, and WordPress almost every day. It also means I’m bombarded with such a steady stream of information that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.

Above all, being in digital media means I write. A lot. I write Facebook posts and Tweets. I write blog posts and articles like this one. I write notes on Evernote and, much to my shame, I write far too many emails, although I do like to think I send fewer messages than I receive.

Working on a Mac

Because I’m lucky enough to work on a Mac, I use Apple’s Pages. I like its clean layout and its iCloud sync capabilities, although I do have to admit that I have on occasion experienced compatibility issues between Apple’s and Microsoft’word processors.

Because of these compatibility issues, I have to use Word on occasion, just to make sure that the .docx file I’m sending looks exactly the way I want.

There are also times when I useTextEdit, usually when I just want to make a note of something. And if I’m working on a longer article — one that involves plenty of research and multimedia files — I find Scrivener hard to beat.

Admittedly, in some ways my life would be easier if I just sucked it up and relied on Word for most of my writing.

But I find Word clunky — software designed for everyone but writers. Worse still, I don’t trust it, not after it crashed twice on me, erasing long hours of work despite the fact that I’d set it to auto save every minute.

A One-Stop Solution

Markdown: so simple it's elegant.

Could there be a better way? A system involves fewer tools? A system that is portable, light, yet powerful, and which makes for distraction-free writing?

Looking for the one format that allowed me to do everything I want in a straightforward manner, I found all roads led to Markdown, a text-to-HTML conversion tool designed by John Gruber.

By all accounts, Markdown is a minimalist writing system that lets you get your thoughts down before you can export them elsewhere — without worrying too much about the appearance.

By doing away with useless, whizzy graphics, it makes it deceptively simple to write for the web and rich text word processors with plain text, letting users concentrate on the writing rather than the tool they’re using.

“Writing in a proprietary format puts an arbitrary expiration date on the record of your thoughts. Why do that?” — David Sparks and Eddie Smith.

More importantly, Markdown is perfectly portable, meaning all the content I write in Markdown will remain forever accessible.

Admittedly, this wasn’t a concern of mine when I first set out looking for a new writing solution. I should have known better. (For example, I don’t use Evernote as much as I used to, given how difficult it makes it to move content from one app to another.)

Indeed, when it comes to producing content, nothing is more reassuring than knowing it’s future proof.

Enter Byword

byword on alain's mac

One of the most popular Markdown-compatible apps is Byword. It has iPad, iPhone, and Mac apps. It looks clean — cleaner even than Pages.

byword on iphone

Much like Pages, Byword also synchronizes with iCloud (it can sync with Dropbox to boot). This means I can create a document on my home MacBook Pro, edit it on iPhone as I head to work, and finish it on my office iMac.

Bonus Points

clutter-free writing

Byword lets me write. Period. No fancy bells and whistles get in the way.

Because it lets users publish directly to Tumblr, WordPress, Blogger, and even Evernote, Byword is also perfect for digital media professionals.

This functionality does require a separate purchase, but if you don’t want to go for it, or if you’d rather preview the content first on those platform, it’s nice to know both WordPress and Tumblr have built-in Markdown support.

The Bad and the Ugly

One of my writing professors used to say, “Writing is human. Editing is divine.” But he still edited on paper, with a red pencil in his hand. If only it were that easy on a computer.

Admittedly, both Word and Pages now do a pretty good job of tracking changes. This is where Byword is lacking (and indeed Markdown). At least one tool has been developed to fix this problem, but it’s clunky in my opinion, and there’s no telling what the future holds for it.

A Happy Ending?

In the end, I still have to export when I submit a document to an editor. But we all know there’s no such thing as a perfect app. I may well end up using Byword for 90% of my writing needs, and that’s more than I can say for any other writing app.

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