Markdown, Strikethrough, and Slack

Katie Notopoulos, complaining at BuzzFeed about the way Slack now renders text wrapped in tildes (“~like this~”) as strikethrough:

Ok, so this is almost certainly because of Markdown, a tool that turns text into HTML. In Markdown, putting tildes around a word makes it appear as strikethrough text. Using Markdown makes some sense, I ~guess~, since many of Slack’s clients use it for coding and other technical purposes.

But what about the rest of us? Those of us who don’t know shit about Markdown or coding or who John Gruber is or ~whatever~ man? What about the people who NEED our tildes back so we can actually communicate with each other in the language that is ~native~ to online discussion???? WHAT ABOUT US???????

There is no strikethrough syntax in Markdown. Go ahead and look at the official syntax. Tildes have no meaning, and are passed through as-is by any good Markdown processor. If Slack didn’t have their heads up their asses and actually used Markdown-style formatting syntax, there’d be no problem. (And we’d get italics instead of bold when we did *this*, as we should.)

Adding support for a strikethrough syntax is a longstanding request for Markdown, but I omitted it by design. For one thing, there is no good punctuation to represent strikethrough. Tildes don’t look like strikethrough at all — tildes are squiggly, but a strike is a straight line. The most-requested syntax — wrapping the to-be-struck-through text in hyphens, like -this- — is visually hard to distinguish from dashes used to indicate a pause or parenthetical clause. To me, there is no punctuation that better represents struck-through text than the raw HTML <del> tag. The primary goal of Markdown is to remain readable as plain text.

For another thing, strikethrough isn’t used frequently enough to justify a shortcut. If Markdown provided its own syntax for all of the various HTML tags that people think that they want, it would be a minefield of special cases that you’d need to be aware of at all times while writing. A big part of Markdown’s (still growing) success is that I kept the syntax relatively small.

Update: Tildes-for-strikethrough comes from the GitHub-Flavored Markdown (which is a Markdown variant I like a lot — I just don’t think the syntax for a programmer-oriented variant is applicable to a general-purpose audience like Slack’s). BuzzFeed has updated Notopoulos’s article accordingly.

Thursday, 5 November 2015