What\’s the Matter with Wiki?

I love wiki for so many reasons. Not the least of which is the simplicity of its markup. I mean, you want some bold text? No need to write <strong>bold</strong>, all you have to write is … well, it depends on your wiki. Some of them (including the original WikiWikiWeb) use \’\'\’bold\’\'\’, others **bold** and still others *bold*. There\’s definitely an issue with consistency here.

Wiki was invented in 1995, well after things like email and IRC and other digital communication systems. So, why invent a new markup? Had Ward not noticed the prevalence of things like _italics_ and *bold* in these media? Or is there some parallel community where apostrophes were used for such things that I was just never a part of? Or was it simply a matter of being easy to parse, since \’\'\’ was something you never saw otherwise?

If you only ever use one wiki, you don\’t have to deal with this problem. You just learn the system and keep using it, but I switch between WikiWikiWeb, Amazon\’s internal wiki, Markdown for this blog, emacs-wiki-mode for my day-to-day notes, and others like CLiki and Community-Scheme-Wiki. Note all the differences, some just subtle enough for you to use 20 times in a page before you realize it\’s wrong.

Of course, I have my own opinions of what the correct way to handle wiki markup is (and actually spent some time implementing it with a couple friends). Don\’t worry, I won\’t go into it, with one exception: the horror that is the underline. Markup like _this_ indicates italics, not underline (thanks for getting this right, John). Underlining as a textual notation was popularized with the typewriter, when it wasn\’t possible to just type things in italics — the underline indicated that the text should be read as if it were italicized. It continued with computers when early printers were effectively just typewriters anyway. But now? Underlining should die. Yes, keep it for your links. This is a good use of a notation that has no place in normal human discourse. Since underlining is meant to indicate italics, it seems that _this_ should indicate italics as well, and not underline as so many too-literal systems try to do.

cough, so back to the original point — can someone please come up with a standard format? One that captures the idioms of normal email and chat communications? It would have the benefit of being useful as a plugin for viewing plain-text email in a richer way, without resorting to the evils of HTML or RTF formats.

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