Support Markdown Annotations à la iA Writer 7

I’m aware of that, but Obsidian has steadily not gone down the road of MMD rather than GFM/Common mark.

whether that’s worth extending the accepted markdown syntax even further idk.

There is no single accepted markdown syntax. Commonmark tried to create a canonical spec, but John Gruber rejected it, arguing that the lack of a single spec is a strength of markdown. He even asked them to take markdown out of the name. Now Commonmark is just another competing standard.

Obsidian has also not steadily gone down the road of following iA Writer’s lead.

The Word and docx implementation of comments, tracking changes etc is infinitely better than anything that seems likely to be built with CriticMarkup. And part of that superiority is that users can rely on all other users, even ones they don’t know yet, having access to programs that have that functionality. CriticMarkup has been around a long time - 10+ years - and has never achieved anything other than a very limited take-up; and most of that was at the beginning.

Yeah, nothing is likely to supplant Word as the de facto business standard in the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean other options, be they LibreOffice, Apple Pages, and, yes, CriticMarkup shouldn’t exist or can’t be useful to a subset of users. (For that matter, a case can be made that iA annotations duplicates functionality found in Word’s track changes feature.)

The thing that makes CriticMarkup different is that it’s plaintext and markdown based, and afaik there isn’t really another option available for that. It’s not simply reinventing the wheel the way also-ran rich text word processors are. Unfortunately, at this point most users (even most markdown users) aren’t aware that CriticMarkup exists, so they can’t be said to have rejected it.

CriticMarkup has been around a long time - 10+ years - and has never achieved anything other than a very limited take-up

Again, that doesn’t prove that it wouldn’t be useful to lot of people if it were made available in a popular app like Obsidian, which likely has a far larger user base than iA Writer at this point, even though iA Writer was around for years before Obsidian even existed.

1 Like

One thing that confuses me is that even though iA calls it an “open format,” published the spec on GitHub, and says “We are open to working with other apps to adapt the idea in some form, ideally establishing a standard,” they also say:

While the format is open, avoid cloning our work. Draw inspiration from what we made. Change it. Improve it. Design it yourself. Work on it until it is substantially better. If you can’t beat our design, then let it be and do something else.

So do they want other apps to adopt it or not? Or are they asking for some sort of control over how it’s implemented in other apps? What do they think constitutes “cloning” a supposedly open spec?

It’s not the spec, it’s the implementation and design. And they do seem to be hypersensitive to having their ideas stolen. They lamented that Word came out with an implementation of focus mode within weeks of them launching theirs; idk if that’s true but other programs had a focus mode before iAW and Word’s implementation is different and arguably better (now at least).

I think it’s fair enough - they would like to see their syntax taken up more widely, but don’t want to see lots of other programs looking and functioning exactly like their own. Apple would sue, but I doubt iAW has the money.

Maybe, but surely that’s an issue for the thread requesting CriticMarkup (28 likes thus far).
And what exactly are your issues with just using Fevol’s Commentator plugin? (Again any replies ought to go to its own thread).

surely that’s an issue for the thread requesting CriticMarkup

You were the one who brought it up here. :wink: I’ll try Fevol’s plugin when it hits the community plugins.

iA annotations could be implemented as a plugin, too.

They lamented that Word came out with an implementation of focus mode within weeks of them launching theirs; idk if that’s true but other programs had a focus mode before iAW

iA Writer has always included features that may have been ubiquitous when they added them, but were first pioneered in other specific apps—including Microsoft Word—long before iA Writer existed and copied them.

Imagine you have developed a distinctive idea, design, and codebase over many years, and you believe—maybe by error, maybe rightfully so—that it’s only fair to acknowledge your rights over how your work is used.

Over 13 years, you’ve adjusted to being frequently copied, learning, month after month, year after year to take a more grown-up stance. Two weeks ago, you’ve even open-sourced your latest well earned code specification, prioritizing functional cross-compatibility in markdown editors over immediate economic benefits.

You champion originality and creativity, understanding that copying is an initial step in learning. You urge others not to directly replicate your work but to contribute in a creative and respectful manner.

You cater to a very specific audience. You sold over 3 Million apps in 13 years. Your model kept 500,000 active paying users that value the native, focused writing experience offered by your app.

Your model steers clear of subscriptions or free tiers. You believe in choice, ownership and in the inherent value of your product, as reflected in your pricing strategy that aligns with the continuous enhancement and quality of your apps. And while apps come and go you try to reinvent yourself and stay relevant through all these years without giving up on your vision and purpose. You love what you do and you try your very best to do what you say.

You advocate for creativity over imitation. While personal use of your designs for individual purposes is acceptable, you find distributing or facilitating 1:1 clones, whether for profit or for free, unacceptable—especially if this happens within the indie community.

You may punch up, you especially like making fun of Microsoft, like when they call a black frame around their simulated paper sheets “Focus Mode”, many years after you famously called your signature feature (highlighting and vertically centering a single sentence or paragraph while writing) just that.

But you avoid punching down, categorically. You never call out the hundreds of copyists, over all these years, because you know that you will only feed them like that.

You recognize that ultimately, only the copyist fully knows when they’ve crossed the line from inspiration to outright copying. But you know that stealing design is not like someone else’s headache where from outside we have no chance of knowing. It’s someone else’s slightly bad consciousness that can give you quite a headache, sometimes. And when it’s bad you don’t just sit it out as if it were your fault.

You learned to avoid any public threats, no matter how vague, you never ever engage in direct law lettering. You prefer direct communication with those you feel have gone too far. You sometimes surprise them by phone, and that then solves it without trouble, in most cases. If you haven’t reached out when you should have, it might be due to lack of time or perceived relevance, not tacit approval.

You emphasize the distinction between drawing inspiration and committing plagiarism, aligning with Picasso’s notion that great artists transform their influences into something uniquely their own.

For those who still don’t understand that or why distinction between inspiration and plagiarism is mostly up to them, you wrote a long article that goes into painstaking detail: On Copycats

The article is a preparation, a result and an exact parallel to the very feature in question and its ethical foundation. Authorship is based on mutual respect, and ultimately self-respect, not on policing.

In all of this you are careful not because you fear wronging, being wrong or being wronged on the Internet, but because, again and again, you have made the experience that in everything, except maybe knowing how it is to be you, other people might be much more knowledgeable, even in the Internet.

And now imagine you really wrote this at 1:57 am after you read this thread at 23:15 with your full attention, but doubting whether you should reply at all, because, you know, it’s the Internet… You thought about your response, and then you typed it in your own, favorite app, which, some might have guessed, is iA Writer. If you can imagine all that, you have a chance to understand pretty well what we mean by “Don’t clone us.”


I’ve read and reread the post, but still don’t know whether you would like to see Obsidian supporting ‘Markdown Annotations à la iA Writer 7’ or whether you would prefer it didn’t.

It’s not something I would use myself - I would never incorporate AI and I prefer sources to be mildly indicated in text (colour, italics) with superscript number and footnote - but I do see the need for many people and a common syntax makes sense. And many Obsidian users, including me, use multiple markdown editors and iA Writer is one of the most frequent.

1 Like

@Dor I also read @Reichenstein’s article and his extended comment above, but I still don’t understand how it applies to the new Annotation syntax, or what he means by:

While the format is open, avoid cloning our work

I don’t mean to be difficult or contrary, I’m just genuinely perplexed.

iA Annotation looks very clever and well thought out, but nevertheless appears to be yet another extension to the markdown syntax, like Critic Markup and the other enhancements of Gruber’s original found in Multimarkdown and GFM.

How would one go about adding support for an open syntax enhancement to Markdown without “cloning” it?

Indeed, it seems obvious that the Annotation syntax would be more valuable to iA Writer and its users if it worked and was interpreted the same in other apps and utilities, from PKM apps to Pandoc and Marked 2, which would make it more interoperable and better able to serve as a front end for drafting content before its output is passed to other tools.

And presumably that’s why they published it as an open format.

I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouth, and I’m not a software developer (or designer) so I have to accept that my grasp of the concepts at play may be rudimentary, but with those disclaimers out of the way, here’s where I believe the distinction lies:

“Cloning” the work, in this case, would take the idea of using hashes to indicate authorship, but implementing it in a slightly different, closed, proprietary way, maybe calling it something else, and promoting it as your own innovation. This would achieve the same end result for the users of your app, but would break that interoperability between it and iA Writer that we Obsidian users particularly enjoy.

Using the open format, on the contrary, or refining it alongside iA Writer’s development of the format, would preserve that core interoperability, give credit where credit is due, and build upon the work they’ve already done bringing the feature to market.

I think Markdown is an apt analogy—whether your app uses MultiMarkdown, MarkdownXL, or some other extension of the original format, we all use the same core syntax Gruber outlined in his development of the open standard. To “clone” Gruber’s work would amount to taking the same syntax, doing a “search and replace” for the markup characters to disguise the work as your own, then release it as your own idea with your own proprietary name for it, like “Hyperformat” or “LIGHTml.”

@Reichenstein is certainly welcome to correct me if I’m wrong in this assessment, and I hope it’s clear that my proposed resolution is to adopt—not clone—the standard.

To “clone” Gruber’s work would amount to taking the same syntax, doing a “search and replace” for the markup characters to disguise the work as your own, then release it as your own idea with your own proprietary name for it, like “Hyperformat” or “LIGHTml.”

In a sense that’s what Gruber did: just changed the characters that other markup syntaxes such as org mode and asciidoc were already using for the same things before he came up with the markdown spec.

The biggest advantage of markdown is that, unlike those other markup conventions, it somehow caught on outside a narrow tech audience, which resulted a bigger ecosystem of apps and tools being developed to use it, which in turn made it more interoperable.

In other words, it’s not necessarily intrinsically superior to the alternatives it more or less copycatted, but it’s a better choice for most people because it’s become a de facto standard.

I wonder if the devil is in the details on this one. It looks like a lot of people were exploring lightweight markup languages around the same time, but I wonder if there are significant technical reasons some standards were adopted over others. Again, I’m no developer. Even something simple like a markup language is a little over my head.

You’re right though, I guess Markdown doesn’t demonstrate the distinction I was trying to draw as well as I had hoped. I still think the distinction @Reichenstein is trying to draw—between cloning and collaborating—is a reasonable one, and I want to reiterate that my feature request is to adopt iA’s Authorship specification rather than implement some sort of clone. I’m not looking to piss anybody off.

1 Like

You certainly weren’t pissing me off. I’ve been enjoying the conversation and the exploration of the issues, and I hope you are, too.

Would knockoff designer luggage and handbags work as an analogy?

The thing is, though—I can’t think of any software that’s a direct knockoff of iA Writer in the manner of fashion knockoffs. I’ve tried a fair number of open source and commercial markdown apps, and none of them look or feel all that much like iA Writer, other than that they’re markdown editors, and so share more similarities with each other than they do with, say, word processors like MS Word, Apple Pages, and LibreOffice.

There are iA Writer-inspired themes for Typora, Obsidian, and BS Code, but they seem more like tributes from admirers than ripoffs. I don’t think iA is losing any sales because of them.

Oh, I wasn’t worried about you! :slightly_smiling_face: Thoughtful discourse is the cornerstone of considered output. I was more worried my feature request would be taken as a call to clone, and I would hate to upset the good folks over at iA Writer.

I came to Obsidian via Scrivener, Ulysses, and Drafts, so I’m admittedly pretty unfamiliar with their app. Still, having read their post on “rats,” it seems like there are two core grievances:

  • People skinning apps to look enough like iA Writer that potential iA Writer users don’t feel like they’re missing out by not buying the software, which might fit the knockoff handbag analogy. Themes might be a good example of this—people see iA Writer and think, “Ooh, I would like that!” then see the price tag and settle for an iA Writer theme in the app they already have. As someone without a steady income, I can relate to this experience—$50 for an app, however great, is quite an ask—but I know design well enough to know that it’s not just about the way something looks.
  • People directly cribbing aspects of iA Writer’s code to create an app designed specifically to redirect potential iA Writer users to download their app instead of the real deal—which I think may also resemble the knockoff handbag market.

And I’m not sure the objection is monetary so much as it is principled (although I would bet the money is not insignificant.) As I’m sure is obvious from the history of industrial design, it can take years of research, development, and testing to design something truly extraordinary, but only a few weeks to strip it down, see how it works, and make a copy. With something like an electric razor, it’s easy enough to patent your design and hold up the two objects to demonstrate their obvious similarities. I imagine it’s harder to claim theft in the case of intellectual property or software, or to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt to laypersons like me, but that reminds me of a debate that hits closer to home in the circles where I operate: plagiarism.

At the risk of having a significant portion of these discussions moved to a different thread for being off-topic, I would simply add that plagiarism is an extremely difficult charge to bring successfully against the perpetrator in court, so much so that maybe a handful of writers have ever succeeded in claiming damages for their work having been stolen by others. Unless it’s a word-for-word copy, it’s almost impossible to prove when someone else took your idea, especially when the nature of the crime depends on the perpetrator’s intent and the perpetrator, in this scenario, is already being accused of lying.

But whether it can be proven or not, litigated or not, the offense of being plagiarized can create misanthropists who remove their work from the public eye entirely, continuing to develop new tools and concepts, but refusing to grant the world access to them because their efforts were so mistreated and unappreciated. Design is hard work—I can’t do it!—and programming is a specialized skill set I don’t have, so I would respect the desire to remain an inspiration rather than a source of theft out of both an appreciation for the work of people who can do things I can’t and a sense of empathy for the disheartening experience of having one’s hard-earned labor stolen without any recourse for recompense.