After making a substantial amount of edits for my last post which totaled 3 months of on and off work, I thought that it would be the perfect time to finally post it on Medium. Medium has always been the one place where many go to read posts about various topics from self-improvement to economics and, the most important of all, software. The platform has manifested itself into a great source of knowledge filled with tutorials, discussions, and opinions from various developers in the industry. If I needed a tutorial on how to set up a microservice architecture deployed to docker and orchestrated with Kubernetes, Medium was bound to have a comprehensive guide on that.
With such a large and growing community of developers, I thought that importing posts that contained links, images, and code snippets should be a synch given the widespread availability of Markdown. It is the primary markup language on most developer platforms and adoption seems to only be growing over time. Feeling confident that I am now finally done with editing, I simply created a gist with the contents of my post and clicked the import button. To my surprise, everything came out wrong.
Looking through the post, it seemed that the importer worked correctly at the very beginning of the post. The title, table of contents, and first paragraph looked to be in order. Once it runs into some content written in HTML, things started to get a lot worse. Links, images, and code snippets ended up disappearing altogether at some parts of the post. What's worse was that the importer was not able to pick up some bullets and numbered list correctly, where it either deleted some of the lines and renumbered them. A sinking feeling hit me as I realize that I had to go through editing the entire post again. This is especially gruesome on really long posts. Additional complications arise with Medium's custom formatting which is incompatible with existing Markdown posts.
Although it may sound like I am just nitpicking here, there are quite a few limitations of the Medium editor that prevents it from reaching its fullest potential. The editor UX seems fine on the surface given the features that it offers, but one will quickly realize the number of gotchas that actually exist within the platform.
These are the few things that I feel really set Medium back as a platform for publishing:
1: Nested Lists
When I first tried to convert my blog post, I thought most things would instantly be formatted correctly with only a few things needed to be adjusted here and there. One of the things I like to use to organize my content is to nest lists to create some sort of hierarchy in the information I'm presenting.
All I got was a big fat nope.
What ended up happening was that anything that contained a nested list was completely stripped out. Sure it can be mostly fixed by copying and pasting the information again, but there is absolutely no option in the editor to offer any means of indentation with the bullet points.
I'm not the only one who feels that this is a major drawback in the editor itself. Just ask these users:
@Medium How does one insert nested lists (OLs or ULs) in content? First level is simple. Second level?— Robert Koritnik (@robertkoritnik) October 9, 2014
- Note that this is a discussion on a separate project.
The lack of response to writers who want these features shows you where Medium's priorities really are, which of course, is to paywall more articles.
2: Code Embedding
With many notable tech blogs hosting their content on Medium such as Treehouse, Basecamp, Slack, FreeCodeCamp, Netflix, and other publishers and independent writers, it would make sense for Medium to have its own way of embedding and displaying code to readers.
In fact, Medium does; only if you are fine with settling for a plain un-highlighted gray-black block sitting in the middle of your page.
This may seem like a small detail, but it makes sifting through large code snippets easier without going somewhat blind. I think it is great that Medium does support the triple backtick syntax of starting a code block since 2016, but that only scratches the surface of what code blocks can actually do.
One solution that many developers and I use is to embed code snippets from other third party services like Gist, Codepen, and JSFiddle. This is much better than the existing editor implementation and better than adding images of your code since Medium does not support alternative text for visually impaired developers. .
This seems fine, but if you have an existing blog post already written in Markdown, creating a new gist or code snippet on other services becomes a chore that doesn't need to exist in the first place. There are, however, tools like this one that creates the code blocks for you, but that ultimately ends up polluting your Gist. The point is, there shouldn't be this many steps in trying to publish blog posts that contain code snippets.
3: Images? What Images?
As expected, since Medium did not support Markdown, any form of embedding images was completely stripped out after I used the import tool, all the images got stripped out. Wonderful.
The one thing I can do about it is to upload the images one at a time, but this shouldn't even be necessary in the first place.
This could easily be implemented in the editor if there was support for embedding images by only using the Markdown syntax.
In addition, the support for captions for images is just simply missing, making it difficult for people who have trouble seeing.
This is very common in a lot of text editors already where we can easily organize our data in a series of rows and columns. It may require some more work for the Medium team to implement, but things such as embedding tables for data sets, spreadsheets, and calculations are quite important in the developer space.
At least even in Wordpress, you have the option to embed tables via external plugins. The lack of this feature just makes it feel very limited.
5: Limitations in Post Design/Control
Now we cannot put Medium at fault for lacking these features. Medium is designed following the ethos of minimalism, but some of that is being stripped away with the addition of new modal dialogs and distractions floating around the article itself. These are a few things that are also quite limiting the platform as a whole:
Lack of Interactive Content
It is hard to embed visualizations powered by JS libraries like d3.js. The best you can do on Medium is to just make these screenshots or link your readers to other sites to view your interactive content.
This greatly limits how much information could actually be presented in Medium itself.
Without being able to add custom HTML, crafting a beautiful blog post without making it look generic starts to become a challenge. The flexibility of styling the page the way you like can be made possible if Markdown was supported. In addition, custom styles would be a huge plus in allowing writers to have more variety in their posts. The one thing, however, is that the HTML must be sanitized before it can be rendered on pages to prevent XSS attacks.
The only way to show videos is to link them through YouTube or gfycat. This is still debatable since these platforms do offer quite a bit of flexibility. However, they end up loading a lot of extra dependencies like JS libraries that add bandwidth and loading time. This does not make for a great mobile experience.
Benefits of Markdown
There is no question that Markdown has seen a dramatic increase in its adoption ever since its inception in 2004. It is widely adopted in many version control sites like Github and Gitlab, messaging platforms like Slack, project management platforms like Trello, static site generators like Gatsby and Jekyll, and even note-taking apps like Typora. The list here is not exhaustive.
Many have turned to Markdown in the recent years since it is syntactically simplistic compared to HTML, widely adopted by many tools on the web, and commonly used among marketers and tech teams.
The barrier to entry, even for professionals who do not program, is substantially lower than any other markup language that exists today. And no, formatting your text in Word does not count. There are no extra words or letters like
a, etc. that may be confusing and just irrelevant to a marketer in a sales agency trying to promote their product.
The syntax to learn is quite small, making the output quite predictable most of the time and a lot less error prone. There is no need to fiddle around with styling your elements or trying to make sure that elements are presented correctly. Although some may view this as a downside for Markdown due to its fixed design nature, it is extremely efficient if anyone wanted to create a quick, nicely formatted document to serve as documentation for an application or just taking some quick notes. Its low verbosity means that you can spend less time typing boilerplate and more time on the actual content.
To appease the technical folk, Markdown allows inline HTML to provide more flexibility in creating different layouts. If there is something that cannot be done in Markdown, you can still write HTML and your parser will understand.
Like HTML, Markdown documents can be previewed instantly without having to install any other library (cough looking at you MiKTeX cough) or running any specific commands. There are a plethora of online editors for both markup languages that would present the content just fine.
Gee Stan, Markdown sure sounds great but there's a problem. How can I easily convert my Markdown posts to Medium?
You see, this has been a big problem that many have solved, or attempted to solve I should say.
In short, there is no one size fits all converter that could accurately convert all Markdown files into Medium's format without losing a few elements here and there. Below are a couple of ways and tools that other bloggers have taken to bridge the gap.
Markdown To Medium
This tool is perhaps the one that comes closest to preserving all the formatting that you have in your posts. Not only does it automatically import your content, but it also automatically creates gist for all of your code snippets to add proper syntax highlighting. This may clutter up your gist collection, but it is a small price to pay for making publishing a blog post so much easier.
Medium Editor Markdown
This extension to Medium Editor adds Markdown and HTML editing to render content as seen in Medium. This is great if you want a quick preview on how your post may look by simply pasting your existing Markdown file.
Create Your Own Blog
It may be a drastic choice, but nonetheless viable. It's a great way to step into the world of static site generators like Gatsby, Hugo, and Jekyll. You will end up getting all the control in terms of how to style your blog, how to code it, and how to deploy it. Earlier this year (2019), FreeCodeCamp made the jump in their announcement albeit for other reasons. Nevertheless, they are not the only blog that is moving off of Medium.