Plain text, markdown, etc. - how important is it to you?

How important is it to you that your chosen apps work exclusively in Markdown or even Plain Text? What are the specific reasons?

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Having a lot of tools popping up and sinking, for me it is not about Markdown specifically. Having a general export/import possibility is a great plus to avoid vendor lock-in. About writing: I don’t care about if it is WYSIWYG (as far as I can format with the keyboard) or Markdown. But some point of formatting is a great plus for me. Maybe I’m a bit too hyped about aesthetics. But even if you have plaintext, you will use eg. bullets :slight_smile:


Yeah, I think this is one of the primary reasons many people like plain text or markdown at the moment. And it certainly makes interop simpler, vs. say some kind of XML-based approach, or even HTML, both of which - while markdown has its variations in interpretation - tend to be more problematic as far as consistency in implementation and interpretation.

But there is a whole group of people who were markdown enthusiasts before the current wave of note-takers that supported it. And I think they liked the portability as well, but also the ability to format with hands on the keyboard, and in a way that theoretically would be similar across multiple apps (anything that supported markdown). I.e. no proprietary toolbars or keyboard shortcuts, or whatever. It’s keyboard-oriented, but syntax-driven, so you don’t need to remember that strikethrough is Ctrl-Shift-5 in one app and Shit-Alt-X in another. :smile:

My sense of the latter group is they might often actively eschew WYSIWYG, even if it had no disadvantages re: portability. But I wonder about those who have come to use markdown largely as a product of the recent wave of note taking tools adopting it. Is their feeling about markdown more one of convenience rather than preference? It seems like that’s true for you, at least.

Agreed. Personally I prefer WYSIWYG combined with in-line formatting that converts to rendered results immediately (like Typora). This avoids some pitfalls of markdown-only approaches (such as the radical and disruptive text shifting in edit vs. preview mode in Roam), and makes formatting both more accessible and teachable within the app. Curious to see what Obsidian comes up with as far as their WYSIWYG implementation…

Don’t worry, you’re not too aesthetically focused if you ask me. In fact I think formatting is too-often dismissed as mere window dressing, when in fact in common usage it is highly functional in nature, and its lack actually increases cognitive load of both reader and writer. For example, headers both allow you to specify (as a writer) and determine (as a reader) the major areas of a document and their basic subjects or focuses, while also allowing (in well-implemented systems) for navigation of larger documents and other ToC-related features. Bold, underline, and highlight all allow you to draw attention to important points, which is a functional rather than aesthetic purpose. Formalized bullet points, while not strictly necessary, do improve readability in many cases (the slight indent showing that each item is part of a set, for example).

There have been studies done that even demonstrate the benefits of certain typefaces vs. others in readability, absorption and retention, etc. Basically, if - as a reader - you have to work harder to understand the meaning and intent of the author, you are less likely to understand and retain that meaning. So formatting is very important and is, in my opinion, unfairly trivialized at times.

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Seems to me like a good bet . Until you pointed it out , I never realised how easy it was to format Markdown with keyboard and not having to memorise shortcuts . I am definitely one of the latter and I think I would prefer Markdown for its portability .

The one thing that keeps me from jumping into obsidian is the lack of WYSIWYG editor ! I guess that will be the feature that locks me in , if Codex doesn’t make it in time :sweat_smile:

Excellent case for formatting :clap:t3::clap:t3::clap:t3:

I should also add , on top of agreeing, that you have actually Inspired me to use
formatting more on a daily basis !!

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You talk about #Codex a lot (I mean I saw it a lot also in the Discord chats). Although there is a tag for that, I cannot find any info about it here. What’s it and how it is unique?

Codex is a WIP , and beta is expected to come out soon !
It aspires to be the knowledge worker’s OS .
Its a Neo4j based graph database that could easily end up being the one tool that I would need to use :wink:
You can find musings about the tool here :

The developer of Codex is @argimenes !

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Same, pretty much!

That’s awesome to hear! I personally use it a lot, especially when e.g. multiple highlight colors are available and stuff. You can easily come up with mental connections between styles and meaning. Better to have a Codex-like ability to tag/link/associate with meaning, of course

But for example in my daily logging practice (mentioned elsewhere) I would often color code sections, green for good things, yellow for things to remember, purple for emotional experience notes and thoughts, and so on. It allowed me to skim and derive understanding from my notes in my weekly reviews much more easily, even vs. e.g. Roam or other tools. Formatting is much quicker to pick up on than parsing text for links, etc. for example (with or without the double brackets, which I find just add to cognitive load when reading, personally).

Btw, I know I am touching on pieces of my workflows and practices here and there. I intend to make a big post (or several?) about how I do things some time, because I’d be curious to hear from people who approach their lives similarly to me and how they make it all work. Overall I’m pretty happy with the core of my habits and practices, and have plans for long-term improvement, but we can always learn and improve more. :slight_smile:

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That’s quite ingenious :slight_smile:

dang. I am nowhere near satisfied with my workflow , its scattered all over the place and I am in dire need of a cleanup .

Talking about this made me realise , there is soon going to be a space for Tool/ App coaches :smiley:
Someone you can hire to understand your needs , workflows etc and help set you up with the right set of tools and integrate them , move the older files into the new system etc .

That would be a fun job to do :smiley:

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Well, same for me really. Note I said I was satisfied with my “habits and practices”, what I mean by that is e.g. I have a daily log and a weekly review, those are habits or practices. Or I have a practice of making notes after each of my therapy sessions. Etc. But the tools I use to do these things are much less satisfying and definitely scattered at the moment.

Yes, I love this idea! Right now we seem to have some app-specific people, e.g. Notion experts, etc. But I think that’s approaching it from the wrong direction, although it’s clearly successful for some people simply because of the combination of Notion’s popularity, and the unsolved (by Notion) problem of its flexibility not actually guiding good workflows. The endless “dashboard” iterations are a symptom of this too.

I think people who are here have a good chance of becoming such cross-app workflow and efficiency experts because we have a more tool-agnostic mindset. I could as easily recommend Fibery as Notion as Airtable (though I am less knowledgeable in the last). When you’re a Notion expert, everything looks like a Notion problem. :wink:

I agree! In fact I often find it more fun to solve other people’s problems than my own. Which can be a problem for me. :laughing:

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I haven’t had time to read the rest of the conversation yet, but I’ll answer the original question anyway:

Plain text is a deal-breaker for me. Some form of WYSIWYM that’s also in plain text is a must, so MarkDown or LaTeX or even HTML5 in a pinch.

Reasons why:

  • I want to be able to hit my content with a python script. Stripping formatting is easy; re-encoding a file that’s essentially an image (pdf) or a pain in the backside to transcode (doc, odf) is a nightmare.
  • I need the file to work in Linux, Windows, and Mac OSs, that’s hard enough with straight UTF-8 encoding. If I need node.js to render my notes, I’m table-flipping.
  • Not local? Not using. (Sit on it and rotate, Roam.)
  • Markdown is good but not perfect. Nobody has a full implementation of it but at least most good MD note apps are polite enough to build-in mermaid and LaTeX support in the areas in which they’re lacking. At least if I’m writing it by hand and not using a WYSIWYG tool, I know that it’s going to avoid characters that will throw Linux/Bash/Python/Powershell into a tantrum.
  • Screenreaders for the blind are easier to write for plain text.
  • Text-to-speech in general requires the text at some point be plain UTF-8 encoded.

In conclusion, plain text is a deal-breaker, and I can’t imagine why I’d choose an app that didn’t let me write MarkDown if I wanted to.


Mate , you are definitely not alone there :smiley: I have the tendency to do that , many a times more than I could possibly handle :smiley:

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@Oshyan I’m in the same boat. When I get a chance I’ll post my ‘online course study’ workflow.


I will be looking forward to that post of yours man


All good reasons, not all of which I’ve heard before. :smiley:

Personally I am still hoping for an all-in-one (or near enough) tool, and if that could truly be achieved, I’d be willing to sacrifice portability of at least some of that data in exchange for richer interrelation, sophisticated database functions, really nice WYSIWYG (Notion-like but even better), and other proprietary functions.

So what that looks like in relation to portability for me is, if there is deeper formatting, linking, databases, etc. in the tool, then being able to export text versions of those at a minimum, markdown hopefully, and full (e.g. XML) properties, links, etc. if possible, even if for the moment the originating tool is the only one that can implement them. At least then there is the possibility that, if the source tool dies or gets prohibitively expensive, perhaps someone (or the community) will create either a converter, or even a full viewer and editor for that data. But if nothing else one has the text which to me has ultimately been the most important part, though I increasingly value the connections.

My sense is Codex is roughly following the above approach, at least in intention. Of course we don’t really know since it’s not even in beta yet. :grin:

All that said, what I do see most often expressed is a strong preference for markdown, and rejection or even outright disdain of proprietary/richer formats. Whether that’s because the people who accept proprietary formats are just less vocal (or less aware of the potential sacrifices they’re even making), or if markdown really has that much support, I’m not sure. But it’s certainly true that markdown comes as close as anything to a “lingua franca” of current tools, from note taking (obviously), to project management (hmm!), to even database tools, and more.

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Ran across this today, showing a great example of the value of highlighting, and now that it’s possible in Roam too. Great!


Better late than never , I think :smiley:

But what’s nagging me is , aren’t these the kind of things that the developer should be working on and releasing ? The updates that these community devs bring out are actually mind blowing .


If you’ve followed my Twitter posts about Roam at all you’ll know, of course, that I agree with you 100%. :smile: Although ironically this particular feature was closer to a border case for me, where I think it should be in core, but I am not surprised it was developed first externally given how easy it is to hack CSS.

That said, I’d feel a lot better about these and other features not being in core if the new features that were added to Roam seemed to have broad utility and were accessible to use. For example I’m struggling to understand the complex, interesting, but ultimately confusing new feature just announced today: Find or Create Blocks by Path (Fillers and Gaps Removed) - Descript

While I like the idea of this “nested search” of sorts, for the actual editing where it’s supposed to show up in two places at once, why not just open the secondary page in the sidebar, edit it there, then drag over the references when done, which he seems to do anyway in one of the demos. I don’t really get it.

It may be really cool if I’m missing something, but often it seems like Conor is just working on increasingly convoluted ways to interconnect the graph system he’s built, without really adding significantly new or useful tools. Of course someone hardcore into Roam may feel this new feature is mind-blowingly great, I don’t know. I just wish there was a better balance of deep, hard to understand features, and really nice, immediately appealing features (like the highlighting above, of course).

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I think more than for editing , this is a great way to grab the blocks that you have a vague locational idea about , but don’t know the exact location . Its a great way to traverse the DB , RemNote has had this feature since it launched . I love it . It lets you travel to those pages , grab what you want and bring them here , without having to actually change the workspace .

For once , I actually feel like this is a great feature . I remember when he was building this block search feature . But what is surprising to me is , all these so called deep features are already built in smoothly into RemNote , I just dont get why it hasn’t quite taken off yet .

maybe he’s leaving the easier features for the community devs to work on , while he can concentrate on more deeper , frontier establishing features ?

N.B : not a cult member here .

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This is something that confuses me about the last, maybe, 10 updates to Obsidian. Where I used to have my entire experience changed with every update, they now seem to be focusing heavily on yaml frontmatter on notes rather than the core Obsidian experience, like giving links between notes the ability to hold metadata so that you can turn them into relationships, not just navigation.