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wiki formats



Ian Hickson recently lamented to me that:

"I have yet to find a wiki that has both a nice syntax (i.e. one that looks 
like text/plain as opposed to one that looks like just another obscure 
markup language -- if you're going to use markup, why not just use HTML 
in the first place), and that produces semantic markup (as opposed to 
having tags for "bold" and "italics")."

And I have to kind of agree with him. My experience with current wiki formats is that they haven't done that good a job of "paving the cowpaths", that is, taking what people write in plain text documents, and interpreting them as structure, rather than inventing new text conventions (e.g. equal signs for headings?!?) and getting people to learn them.

This page is an attempt to catalog/document current wiki and wiki-like text formats to see if there is any chance of solving this problem.

Technically a wiki format would not be a microformat because it is not expressed in XHTML building blocks. However, many of the other principles of microformats can be applied to perhaps come up with a better solution that what wikis use today (since they all seem to use their own variant formats anyway).

wiki software


What you're using now.


What the Technorati Developer's Wiki uses.


Tiki Wiki

TikiWiki Syntax Reference and Formatting Guide

Important Syntax:


Introduction and Syntax Rules.

Other Resources

Should plain text formats from other non-wiki systems be included in this exploration? What about phpbb codes? Or certain blogging tools? What about Almost Free Text ( Syntax Overview ) and other plain text processing tools?

Other Standards Efforts


Apparently most wikis use a * to indicate bulleted lists. Nesting works intuitively. New paragraphs are often indicated with newlines. Several schemes uses capitalized JoinedWords to indicate an internal link, and square brackets [ ] to indicate an external link. Common problems include unexpected failure to handle nesting within certain syntax, competing formatting rules, varying degrees of semantic meaning, and arbitrary formatting codes.

wiki formats

straw proposals

What Ian uses in his text/plain documents:

first level heading - followed by a line starting with equal signs "="
second level heading - followed by a line starting dashes "-"
 1. Here is one ordered list item
 * Here is an unordered list item
_at the moment_
| This is a quote
| and a second line

Open issues:

wiki-formats was last modified: Wednesday, December 31st, 1969