Asciidoc: part deux

First of all, I’m going to apologise for the post-Christmas techy rant.

I do most of my writing in Markdown; and as I may have mentioned before, I’m not altogether happy about it.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a lot better than trying to craft a novel in Word, which is a plethora of distractions and well-intentioneed overkill. There are lots of really good tools, at wildly varying price points, that make working with Markdown a doddle … mostly. The important thing, however, is that a Markdown file can be converted to just about any other file format, so it’s the idea place to keep the source of your novel.

The trouble is that the publishing industry is built around the Word document format, which is why, I guess, most authors still churn out their books in Word.

But what if we could start again? What if a comet hit the planet, wiped out civilisation and we all had to crawl out of the ashes and rebuild? What would the new universal document format look like? 1)I’m willing to admit that my priorities may come off as a little skewed.

Okay, to begin with, I wouldn’t pick a binary (or packaged XML). I wouldn’t pick anything opaque, even if 99% of its users would never see it in its raw form. So what criteria would I aim for?

Yep, none of this binary nonsense or compressed XML. It has to be purely text-based so that writers can enter it by hand if they want to, without too much extra work.
The DOCX format is an open standard, but it’s so complicated that no one except Microsoft can really parse it end to end. Still, our text-based format should be backed by an international standard body so that one implementation wil behave in exactly the same fashion as another.
But an open standard can’t do everything, so the format should support a standardised way of adding extra functions. Is that doable? Well WordPress can manage it; this list you’re reading is implemented using a third-party extension.
The great thing about a text-based document format is that it lends itself to all sorts of collaboration tools like version control systems or multi-user editors. You pick text-based, you get this for free. I’ve yet to come across a version control system that can diff word documents stored inside it.

Markdown is almost there, but it lacks a standards body to guarantee compatibility across different implementations. So what we have is different flavours of Markdown that makes the whole idea less portable.

So, if I was looking at a post-apocalyptic document format, I’d start with AsciiDoc. (There is also reStructured Text, but as of now, I think AsciiDoc has more traction).

Okay, so we have our document format, but we also need a tool to convert it into HTML, or PDF, or ePub, or … DOCX.


Join in…