Markdown, An Open Document Workflow

October 15, 2011

I want to use a standard and open document format, so that I know I will be able to open my documents in years to come. That’s plain text. I also want to revision control my text files, so I want to use source control system. Which will also allow me to synchronize between computers between computers. I also like to have one standard editor I know I find in any operating system, and that will always work with my documents. I want to make sure that I am not locked-in into any particular cloud or tool or format or …

I’ve been using Markdown since 2006, effectively taking all my notes at work using a simple text editor and using the Markdown text markup format. I also use Markdown for writing down thoughts and posting to this blog. I rarely, if ever, use Word or even TeX/LaTeX. I treat markdown as my source format and I generate all my target formats using multimarkdown: PDF, HTML, RTF, etc.

As an editor, I use emacs markdown mode and it does me well. And it’s not about emacs: you may use vi, or TextMate, or whatever. The point is that your favorite text editor, whichever it is, is probably good enough. I have also recently started using Marked as a convenience for previewing the transformed markdown output without having to continuously switch back to the browser or do C-c C-c p all the time.

I also use Jekyll to transform some of my markdown text files onto a static site where git is the glue here. It works everywhere I have git.

Recently I have had a need to bring my markdown files to the iPhone and the iPad. And although one may find some specialized git iOS clients for things like github, there is no general git client for iOS, integrated with a text viewer, as far as I know.

Given the lack of shared file system in iOS, whichever app I use must have both text editor, ideally with support for markdown preview, as well as sync capabilities. Nocs is exactly that. It uses Dropbox to sync your files, and it has an embedded text editor with markdowns support. It fits perfectly into my workflow. I continue to use emacs on the laptop, and Nocs on the iPad. Dropbox syncs between laptop and tablet, and git between computers.

I am sure there are ways I could simplify the flow. But for now, this meets my requirements.

Finally, I am not keen at all to use tools like Evernote, since as far as I am concerned I am losing both freedom and the future-proof aspects of plain text. I have literally thousands of text notes accumulated over the years, and I have the reassurance that I will always be able to access and edit my notes in years to come. I don’t want to risk putting my documents onto a proprietary platform.