Markdown is a way to quickly write in common, plain text the way you would when writing in Notepad, for example in such a way that it adds quick indications for formatting like bold, italic, or blockquote, and for actionable markup like hyperlinks.
Plain text marked up with Markdown can be converted to HTML, PDF and other presentation formats.
The benefits of Markdown are ease of use, speed, and long term compatibility.
Easy & Fast
Some formatting and actionable presentation take more keystrokes or even mouseclicks than is optimal when writing. Youre in the flow, youre in the zone: why leave?
While writing using underscores to go _italic_ or **this to go bold** isnt that much faster than pressing CTRL I or CTRL B in most editors, writing > to make a blockquote or forming a link by typing [anchor text](URL) is.
Ease equals speed. Speed equals ease. The no-slowdown, no-pushback style of writing Markdown brings to your writing process is an incredible win.
Compatible & Portable
Markdown text can be written anywhere text can. In Notepad, in Word, in an HTML editor: anywhere. But in essence it adds formatting agreements to plain text; the type of files Notepad makes.
The power of plain text files is that it is an open document format which can and may be used by virtually any software on Earth. It is the most common text presentation format. Where Word and Acrobat will one day go the way of WordStar and WordPerfect (if you dont know what those programs are then take that as a case in point), plain text wont.
Plain text can be opened by any program (PDF and .docs arent) and is always readable (PDF and .docs look like gibberish in software not meant to open it with).
Your advantages are that you can easily port your text from one program to the other, retaining all formatting and never being limited by the software you use; and your files will be human readable for the LongNow; and your files will never be locked down; and you can still output them into any other presentation format you want.
How To Write Markdown
Open a text editor and start writing.
Basic syntaxes (more here):
_italic_ or *italic*
__bold__ or **bold**
There is more goodness but this will get any writer going in no time.
How to Convert Markdown
Get a Markdown plugin, upload, activate; done.
For drag & drop goodness on Windows, create a shortcut on the desktop. Right-click on it, choose properties and at the end of the Target line add:
Text files dropped on that shortcut will be converted to an HTML file with the same name on your desktop.
I like to pretty the shortcut up with this icon:
iPad, iPhone, Dropbox
There are many editors doing markdown (remember, you can type it in any text editor) with syntax highlighting and other goodness.