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Markdown for Hosted WordPress

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While my personal domain has, and always will be, powered by a self hosted semi-custom CMS system, part of my job is staying up-to-date on what’s happening in the CMS/blog-management world. While I don’t take on much CMS work these days, I do interact with people who eat, live and breath this stuff and it’s important to know how the current tools work.

When Tumblr started having trouble with its Markdown editor (since fixed), I decided to launch the new OroCRM quickies blog on a hosted WordPress.com blog. WordPress seem to be the go to platform for small agencies doing promotional web work, and I was curious what their hosted product looked like. I was surprised to discover that there’s no Markdown support for hosted blogs.

Taking an open-source CMS system and turning it into a multi-tenant “we’ll host your blog for you” platform is rife with challenges. While self-hosted WordPress has had Markdown support for years, this support comes from plugins. Hosted WordPress.com does not allow you to install arbitrary PHP plugins. Instead, Automattic (the company behind WordPress) has selected a specific set of plugins for their customers, as well as some custom functionality and optimized UX interfaces. Unfortunately, Markdown editing didn’t make the cut at a marketable feature, or a feature worth supporting long term.

While that’s disappointing to me, I know it’s almost impossible for an outsider to understand the myriad issues involved in bringing a feature like that to a modern, high traffic web service.

Patching the Web

Which brings me to my new side project: Markdown for Hosted WordPress.

While WordPress itself doesn’t offer this feature, and there’s no way for arbitrary third parties to extend WordPress.com, we still have control of our own browsers. I’ve created a plugin for Google Chrome that adds a Markdown tab to the main posts editor on *.wordpress.com. Content is converted between HTML and Markdown on the client side, and then converted to HTML before saving back to the server.

This is still beta software, and I’m looking for two sorts of help.

First, if you use WordPress.com and want Markdown editing, please give the extension a try. Chrome’s recently tightened how third party extensions are installed, so you’ll need to

  1. Download the CRX extension file
  2. Browse to your extension management page at chrome://extensions/
  3. Drag the CRX file into the browser window

If you run into any problems, report them via the GitHub issues manager. Remember, this is beta software. I expect there’s going to be unexpected formatting bugs given Markdown’s mercurial parsing rules. If that’s too much for you to take on, please hold off on using this extension.

The second sort of help I’m looking for is from other developers. I chose a Google Chrome extension for the beta release because that’s the browser I use day-to-day in my development work. I’d like Safari and Firefox versions, so if there’s any plugin hackers out there who could help build either please get in touch.

I’m also looking for Markdown developers. Client side Markdown parsing is fraught will potential problems. Right now the project uses the excellent pagedown parser to turn Markdown into HTML, and the equally excellent to-markdown to convert back from HTML into Markdown. Two different Markdown parsers means there’s bound to be round trip errors. If there’s any Markdown developers out there who know of a safe markdown round-tripping engine implemented in javascript I’d love to hear about it.

Originally published June 11, 2013