On wiki markup languages

April 11, 2008 ⋅ 2 Comments »

In the past few days, I’ve been doing quite a bit of writing in three different wikis:

I’ve become pretty finely attuned to the difference between their markup languages. The OLPC wiki runs on MediaWiki, the same as Wikipedia. The version of DrProject that we’re using seems to use a variant of the MediaWiki syntax. Jottit uses Markdown format. In this wiki-markup-language-cage-match, here’s my decision:

Markdown rules.

Markdown wins, hands down. In fact, ever since I learned about Markdown a few years ago, I’ve been wishing for a wiki that would support it. Luckily, more and more are. In fact, even the new version of DrProject supports Markdown.

I won’t even begin to go into the reasons why Markdown is so superior. If you haven’t tried it out yet, give it a go.


  1. Dmitri - April 12, 2008:

    It's not so obvious to me why it's so superior. The mediawiki syntax is capable of expressing more things (hello, tables). You could argue that Markdown is more natural, because it follows the conventions of email, but that's debatable. For example, I find the "#"-prepending and "="-underlining of headings in Markdown completely unintuitive as I always simply surround headers with "=" marks even in emails.

    Moreover, Markdown is a little too strict when it comes to spacing. For example, if you don't leave a blank line before a bulleted list, you don't get one. That's just weird.

    my 2 cents

  2. Patrick - April 12, 2008:


    You're right, in a point-by-point comparison, the wiki syntax does have some advantages over Markdown. Especially since certain things (tables for instance) Markdown was just not intended to support. I also agree about leaving a blank line before a bulleted list -- that is one thing that annoys me about markdown, because that's not typically the way I'd write it.

    However, here are a few things I really dislike about the MediaWiki syntax:

    • 2nd level bullets or indentation beginning with ":". Huh??
    • The link syntax is inconsistent and confusing:
      • I can never remember whether I need to use two square brackets or one
      • when I want to change the link text, it's a space after the URL, or a | after a wiki link. Why?
      • also, the Markdown way of putting the link text before the URL makes more sense to me.
      • I like how in Markdown you can put the URLs outside of the main text. It makes it easier to read.
    • Italics and bold are simpler in Markdown

    As for the heading format, I don't really have a preference either way. I don't really use too many other features like tables.