Andy Dickinson Andy is a Senior lecturer in Journalism at Manchester Metropolitan University where he is the program lead for the MA Multimedia Journalism.

Putting a Markdown

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This post is the second one on a new blogging platform. Apart from early daliences with Moveable Type, my blogging has been done on a self-hosted Wordpress blog. Now, I've moved to Ghost

In recent years, this blog has been a little neglected. I've still blogged but mostly on Medium. I think the reason for that is that Medium offered less friction to getting content online. My wordpress installation had, by comparison become more and more bloated. Some of that was my fault - in 2007 embedding stuff wasn't as easy as it was now and tweaking code and adding plugins became a fact of life. But Wordpress has also bloated a little too, suffering what most popular open source platform do - feature creep. One of the ways that feature creep manifests itself for me is in a clearer line between the user interface and the back-end.

At one time, digging into the Wordpress code was fun. It was easy to break stuff but it was also easy to make stuff. Now, I'm not so sure. If that sounds critical of Wordpress it's not meant to be. It's still a great platform and I'd encourage anyone thinking of biting the blog bullet to add wordpress.com to their list of services to try. But I've realised I don't need the level of access and control that Wordpress offers anymore (or indeed the level of hosting needed to support that) - I can get my code/geek fix in other places. So I needed to downsize. I needed to:

  • cut back on the size (and cost) of the hosting I was using
  • find a simpler, hosted service to blog on.

Finding a new Medium

The first answer to those needs was Medium. I've really enjoyed the easy process of Medium. But I've been around the web and publishing platforms long enough to be suspicious of putting all my eggs in someone else's basket.

Adam Tinworth voiced similar concerns and his solution was to look at Ghost. Adam's post pretty much sums up why Ghost became a viable option for me - all of this is YOUR FAULT Adam!

So, here I am. I'm on a hosted platform and finding the process of setting things up and blogging is just techy enough to satisfy my geeky itch. Yes, I've shouted at the export and import process. The process of migrating comments, which I'm resigning myself to accept may never work, is really arse. But it's bare bones approach means that its never too complicated to get a post out.

Putting the Markdown

One part of the process that is really different is the way you edit posts. I don't mean the interface. but the actual way you put the text in. Ghost uses Markdown; a way of marking text up with formatting information. Imagine HTML with much simpler tags.

For example;

<b> Would make the text bold in HTML </b>
**The double asterisk does the same thing in Markdown**

The idea is that it isn't necessarily any simpler - there are still codes to learn. The idea is that it is lightweight. In coder terms that means its unobtrusive and generic.

Markdown is one of those things that's cropped up in my online dealing over the years. It's the way that many e-book sites want you to format your work. Github use it to format their readme files. It crops up more than you'd think.

The markdown editor in Ghost is OK but just clunky enough for me too look elsewhere. There is a Ghost desktop 'app' is just that, an app version of the site - same issues. It turns out that the solution for me was in my coding toolbox and not blogging apps.

The mighty Atom

I've been doing a lot more coding and have landed on a free text editor called Atom. As well as being out-of-the box useful, you can also extend it with a number of packages from the user community. These include some excellent markdown functions. Ian Lurie has a great post that details how to install Atom and set it up.

It's not the only option. There are plenty of 'distraction free' writing apps out there that favour or at least support markdown. Ultimately, the lightweight nature of markdown means that moving content around is a simple cut-and-paste.

You do need to think about images with markdown. Blogging becomes a two-stage process;

  • write the text and commit to Ghost.
  • add images and other media on Ghost

That's a slightly different approach to Wordpress but it reflects an approach of separating design/look and feel and the content that underpins things like markdown and to some extent Ghost.

What next.

I'm hoping that this'll be the last time I need to write about 'how' I'm blogging. It'll mean that the platform and process is working for me and I don't feel the need to vent. I'm hoping what you will see is more content.

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