Took a brief look at Asciidoc this morning.

This is for that Markdown document I’ve been writing in Obsidian. I’ve been sharing it with others using PDF exports, but it’s importance has grown to a point where I need to start properly maintaining a change log. And also… sharing via PDF exports? What is this? Microsoft Word in the 2000s?

So I’m hoping to move it to a Gitlab repo. Gitlab does support Markdown with integrated Mermaid diagrams, but not Obsidian’s extension for callouts. I’d like to be able to keep these callouts as I used them in quite a few places.

While browsing through Gitlabs’s help guide on Markdown extensions, I came across their support for Asciidoc. I’ve haven’t tried Asciidoc before, and after taking a brief look at it, it seemed like a format better suited for the type of document I’m working on. It has things like auto-generated table of contents, builtin support for callouts, proper title and heading separations; just features that work better than Markdown for long, technical documents. The language syntax also supports a number of text-based diagram formats, including Mermaid.

However, as soon as I started porting the document over to Asciidoc, I found it to be no Markdown in terms of mind share. Tool support is quite limited, in fact it’s pretty bad. There’s nothing like iA Writer for Asciidoc, with the split-screen source text and live preview that updates when you make changes. There’s loads of these tools for Markdown, so many that I can’t keep track of them (the name of the iA Writer alternative always eludes me).

Code editors should work, but they’re not perfect either. GoLand supports Asciidoc, but not with embedded Mermaid diagrams. At least not out of the box: I had to get a separate JAR which took around 10 minutes to download. Even now I’m fighting with the IDE, trying to get it to find the Mermaid CLI tool so it can render the diagrams. I encountered none of these headaches when using Markdown: GoLand supports embedded Mermaid diagrams just fine. I guess I could try VS Code, but to download it just for this one document? Hmm.

In theory the de-facto CLI tool should work, but in order to get Mermaid diagrams working there I need to download a Ruby gem and bundle it with the CLI tool (this is in addition to the same Mermaid command-line tool GoLand needs). Why this isn’t bundled by default in the Homebrew distribution is beyond me.

So for now I’m abandoning my wish for callouts and just sticking with Markdown. This is probably the best option, even if you set tooling aside. After all, everyone knows Markdown, a characteristic of the format that I shouldn’t simply ignore. Especially for these technical documents, where others are expected to contribute changes as well.

It’s a bit of a shame though. I still think Asciidoc could be better for this form of writing. If only those that make writing tools would agree.

Addendum: after drafting this post, I found that Gitlab actually supports auto-generated table of contents in Markdown too. So while I may not have it all with Markdown — such as callouts — I can still have a lot.