Should we remove markdown parsing from the comment editor?

by habryka1 min read12th Mar 201821 comments

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As was just brought up in the discussion about the vote, the current markdown-parsing in the comments is causing quite a few bugs and the associated convenience might not be worth the costs of the bugs. We now have an experimental option in your user-profile to switch to a pure markdown editor, so it might make sense to just remove the automatic markdown parsing from the comment editor and have it just be a pure rich-text editor.

I left two comments that you can vote on to decide between the options.

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Upvote this if you want us to deactivate the automatic markdown parsing in comments by default.

Voting to deactivate MD parsing inside the WYSIWYG editor, provided a MD-only editor still exists. A tool should do one thing well.

I'll copy my comment from the other thread in here, though, since it's relevant: Don't hide the alternate editor in the user profile. Make it selectable when commenting, and remember the selection. Quite aside from making it immediately obvious that there's more than one way to post, it means you can measure users' preferences by seeing what they use to post with, with much less selection bias (owing to much less inconvenience for the non-default option).

(Replying here to comment in other thread.)

So, first off, thanks for the disable-pseudo-WYSIWYG option! (Now we just need Markdown in profiles working again. :) )

As for this:

I am not a huge fan of permanently displaying formatting options at the top, because I do think it takes up a lot of unnecessary real estate and makes formatting comments feel a lot more intimidating than it has to. (Though it's definitely a much harder UI challenge to then still allow people to format things the way they want).

[Actually, before I address that, a bug! When I copied and pasted the above quote into the comment box here, the width of the comment box suddenly shrunk by a substantial amount, and has remained shrunken as I continue to type this. No idea why.]

Anyway, yeah, I'd say that letting people format their comments without it being a huge pain is substantially more important than avoiding it looking intimidating. I mean, if it were scaring people away from commenting entirely that would be one thing, but otherwise I'm not seeinng the problem. Also like... most people have used a WYSIWYG word processor at some point so I'm confused as to what's so intimidating here? When things are not explicitly displayed it's just confusing.

(That said, now that I've set mine to just use Markdown without all that, I guess I no longer have much of an interest in the result, so I don't think I'm going to keep arguing about this. :) )

Personally I prefer having no visible buttons, it makes the interface cleaner and more elegant.

Maybe make this an option as well?

Are you planning to implement polls in the future?

It's not super high on our priority list and I didn't see them used very much on the old LessWrong, so we don't currently have any short-term plans for them. In the long-run, seems quite likely we will get to it eventually but the timelines are quite unclear.

If a good chunk of people express preferences for polls, then I think it would make sense to move them earlier (or if someone makes a good argument that they are particularly important for making intellectual progress).

There's a third option I just looked into – removing underscore parsing from the WYSIWYG editor rather than removing markdown all together. Underscore parsing is what causes most of the links-not-registering-correctly issues. (underscores are just an alternate way of conveying italics, which asterixes also do, so it's not limiting your formatting options)

I didn't expect myself to have very strong opinions on removing markdown from the WYSIWYG editor but I after experimenting a bit today, I found myself really liking being able to keep typing without having to move my hands to off the keyboard to format text. (i.e. if I couldn't format italics/bold using asterixes I have to type, and then go in through a second pass to highlight text)

I pretty strongly prefer the WYSIWYG editor in general.

Upvote this if you want us to keep the current formatting system for now.

Like many others I have been annoyed by the bugs and the neither-one-thing-nor-the-other-ness of the WYSIsometimesWYG comment editor, but I'm still voting for this option. If we had non-WYSIWYG plus preview I might go the other way (but I'm not sure, because then the preview would take up space -- maybe put it in the margin?).

(This is a thing where if we had the sometimes-requested option to vote with less than the full weight conferred by karma, I might use it...)

A few remarks on the new option:

If you have an already-open LW2 page, changing the setting in your profile will not change the behaviour of comment editors created by that page unless you reload the page. It might be worth displaying something to that effect when committing profile changes that include a change to the comment editor setting.

The option is labelled "Markdown comment editor", but comments can be formatted using Markdown either way. Maybe "Markdown-only ..." or "... (no WYSIWYG)" or something? If it's Markdown-and-LaTeX then "Markdown-only" would be unfortunate. Maybe invert it and make the checkbox say "WYSIWYG comment editor"?

When using the WYSIWYG comment editor, it initially displays a notice about Markdown being supported. When using the non-WYSIWYG comment editor, it initially displays something that doesn't mention Markdown. Maybe make it say something like "Write here. You can use Markdown formatting."?

There isn't anything that indicates whether with the non-WYSIWYG comment editor you can still use LaTeX. I guess you can but haven't checked.

Alas, the MD editor doesn't yet support LaTeX, though it wouldn't be too hard to make it work (about 2-3 hours of work, since it does require rewiring a bunch of backend stuff).

What kind of issues are being caused? Normally Markdown parsing is fairly standard and well understood, if a parser causes issues, couldn't you swap it out for another? (I use https://github.com/markedjs/marked in my own website and I've had no issues, but of course that's not a guarantee)

The issue is not so much dodgy Markdown parsing as such, but the combination of WYSIWYG-ish editing and Markdown parsing. So you type <asterisk>blah<asterisk> and the next time you press space the asterisks go away and "blah" is italicized. This is a slightly strange experience, and makes any bugs there are more annoying, and some people really really hate it.

(The most frustrating experiences I've had with it are actually with the LaTeX integration, which is a lovely thing to have but also occasionally infuriating.)

See https://github.com/Discordius/Lesswrong2/issues/314 for my summary of the issues.