Setext for Plain Text Formatting

This was sent in Issue #44 of Squirrel Notes on April 6, 2020.

Someone mentioned the other day that Setext was 28 years old. I’m contractually required to look into any technology or company with “text” in the name, so I checked it out.

Setext is “Structure Enhanced Text,” and was developed by the legendary Apple email newsletter TidBITS. It was designed to format plain text (and they mean really plain; 7-bit ASCII).

It looks a little like Markdown, with one important difference: it predates HTML. So it was never even intended to be transformed into HTML. It was literally meant to simply format ASCII text, full stop.

Here’s the original newsletter announcement of Setext, from 1992.

We’ll be publishing more about the format itself as time goes by, but for now suffice it to say that there are vast advantages of using a consistently-defined text format, both for you that read us online and offline and for ourselves, the publishers.

And, get this, there were plans for a Setext browser:

In time – not too distant, we promise – there will be special setext browsers to automate the task of searching, archiving and transforming bits of the encoded material into WYSIMOLWYG (“What You See Is More Or Less What You Get”), to permit navigation in large archived mass of data, and more. At least two people are currently writing setext browsers, and they will not be specific to TidBITS but to any setext publication that conforms to the format.

And fully 14 years later, we got Markdown.

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