On CriticMarkup

Screen Shot 2013 02 15 at 7 50 36 PM

The Concept

I’m a proponent of plain text writing and (Multi)Markdown in particular. It’s almost certainly future-proof and it’s ultra-portable. You don’t have to worry about what applications people have installed or even what platform they’re on. Plain text just plain works. Unless you’re doing editing of someone else’s work. By that, I mean, how do you convey additions, deletions, and comments in a plain text system? Microsoft Word and Pages have sophisticated commenting systems in place and they work well. Plain text will never have such a system where little sticky notes pop up and display changes, but there has to be a way to express changes in plain text. CriticMarkup aims to be a plain text commenting system and it’s a great idea. The biggest hurdle to a system like this is adoption. If uptake is slow or non-existent, then its useless is diminished. You also don’t have to worry about someone having a specific tool to use CriticMarkup; you just have to get them to agree to use it.

How does it work?

You can take a look at the CriticMarkup site, but here are the basics.

  • All tags are wrapped in { }s.
  • All tags consist of two distinct characters (++,–,>> for example) wrapped around an addition, deletion or comment.

An addition would look like this:

  • This is a thing wrote.
  • This is a thing {++I++} wrote.
  • This is {–a–} thing I wrote.
  • This is thing I wrote. {>>You’re missing an “A”.<<}

Get the idea? It’s a nice system, but its success will depend on two things: adoption and tools.

The Tools

The tools to make use of CriticMarkup are kind of a weird mess right now. There are TextExpander snippets, Keyboard Maestro macros, a BBEdit code-less language module, a Sublime Text package and a CLI for turning the original documents in a fancy looking HTML document that shows both the original and marked up documents inside of it. The CLI and Sublime Text package seem to be where the bulk of the work went into. The BBEdit CLM isn’t that useful, the TextExpander snippets are only good for creating comments, and the Keyboard Maestro macros weren’t fully fleshed out.

BBEdit Tools

There’s a BBEdit AppleScript for approving (but not declining) markup, but it errors out if you open it up in AppleScript Editor. The CLM that’s included works but doesn’t do much other than help BBEdit understand .crit extensions and lets you just to CriticMarkup items from the toolbar. That is pretty useful, but it doesn’t do anything to the document preview.

Keyboard Maestro Tools

I found a few mistakes in the Keyboard Maestro macros included in the CriticMarkup download. The comment macro created the correct markup when some text is selected, but created “{<<>>}” with no selection. The highlight macro was also incorrect. The palette the CriticMarkup Keyboard Maestro library creates is poorly labeled and the hotkeys don’t make sense when you’re firing a palette up anyway. Here’s my improved palette. I hope the guys over there don’t mind.

Is this endeavor worthwhile?

Sure. It’s a great idea. If the adoption rate is high, it would be great. After reading Glenn Fleischmann bit about Tidbits’ switch to Markdown and their difficulties in editing article in plain text, I’d love to hear their feelings about CriticMarkup.