Markdown is a writing syntax, much like rich text or Microsoft Word’s formatting. The difference is that it’s usable with plain text files like these (.txts). Why this is important is twofold: You can use txts with any computer or phone past or present, and they’re not tied to a single app (like Word files). This makes them platform agnostic and future proof, two pretty neat things in the geek world.
But plain text files have an obvious limitation: formatting. That’s where markdown comes in. Using any number of apps, or the Markdown dingus online, using Markdown syntax, you can write HTML or formatted text using a much simpler set of tools.
Whereas in HTML, italicizing something means you have to type it like this: this is italicized, with Markdown, you only have to do this: this is italicized. That sort of trickery scales to every kind of formatting I know, from headers to footnotes. In fact, I learned Markdown because I could never remember how to do footnotes using normal HTML. It’s much easier, and far more readable.
John Gruber, writer of Daring Fireball, a really good tech blog, made this thing up. If you like, you can read the whole reasoning here. Personally, I use Markdown to write all my novels, blog posts, tweets, and pretty much whatever else. Because of it, I haven’t opened Microsoft Word in years, and have no files that can’t be opened anywhere, on any computer or phone.
Brett Terpstra, another big tech writer, wrote an even better endorsement for it than I have.
David Sparks, a lawyer and tech writer, even made a podcast episode about it, if you’ve got the time.
Naturally, this was written in Markdown, and published with Squarespace, which accepts Markdown text just as easily as normal text.