This started out as an email to John Gruber, the originator and community leader of Markdown, but then I thought it would be good to make it public. So here it is.
John, the forkers seem to feel they've conceded enough by changing the name to "Common Markdown." What if they don't back down?
I think the problem could be sent to the future by choosing a codename for the project now, something like Venice, Sundance or Toronto.
When it reaches completion, there can be an open discussion among all interested parties about whether it should be called Markdown, with the final call made by Gruber.
I'm pretty sure by then it will be very famous using its codename, and we will have stepped around the problem.
But what if they don't back down?
John, you have to decide how much you care. If you do care, then you probably should do Markdown 2.0. Fully backward compatible. Get some powerful allies. That's pretty much what I did with RSS, and it stopped the debates.
Then we added a new application for RSS, they totally didn't see it coming, and didn't understand it when it came out. That ended all the problems. By 2004, four years after the fork, it was all put back together, the format was frozen, we had an extension protocol so the community could move forward.
It wasn't all great, because we couldn't add the features we needed to let RSS do what Twitter does (one-click subscription was the big thing) so RSS basically became infrastructure, which isn't terrible for an XML-based format. Kind of what's it's destiny probably always was.
But it was a shitty way to spend four years. Probably it was a shitty experience for everyone involved. But in the end we got a useful format, and a bunch of great stuff happened that couldn't have happened otherwise.
The website could be much nicer, please! How about dark characters on a light background? How about bigger type? Two very quick simple upgrades that would probably increase user happiness by 100 percent. Please!
Also give people a way to contribute creative juice to the success of the Markdown platform. With Bootstrap that was themes. Github has repositories. WordPress has plugins. RSS of course has feeds. Every one of these things, while not in any way interfering with the solidity of the core, adds value to the platform, and strength to the community.
I wrote a blog post when I started the integration of Markdown with Fargo, asking for ideas on how expand and collapse should work in Markdown. Perhaps that's your new application. I would still love to explore this idea.
I don't see this as exactly as parallel to the experience with RSS, btw. Markdown is in a much stronger position than RSS was when the RDF fork happened. RSS had existed for three years at that point, and they weren't hugely productive. It was still mostly potential and quite vulnerable. Markdown has been around ten years, without any controversy (at least that I've been aware of). So this fork has a long way to go before it can legitimately claim to be The One True Markdown.
It's sad that this has to happen again. It's not just that it hurts Markdown, and in the past hurt RSS, but it makes every new format vulnerable to hijacking by big tech companies. And if that happens too early, that means we can't make any progress.