A history of Plain Text, Markdown & HTML at Zendesk

32 Comments

  • Rachel Kelly
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    Hi Jake,

    Thanks for taking the time to assemble this.  I know a lot of us feel very strongly about this so your time taken for this is much appreciated.

    I think there are two use-cases at work - the technical support and other technical crowd, and the group which is not transmitting code over their responses.  I do not imagine if you're not delivering bash commands and code blocks that you would have as great of a need for markdown, as that is among its greatest strengths.

    However, in my organization and in those of my peers at other large technical organizations, some generating thousands of tickets per month, we have a great, and industry-standard, need for markdown in our tickets.  A WYSIWYG editor may be sufficient for italicizing, bolding, in-line image placement, and basic url linking, but your technical support agents will be typing the html tags by hand which is very laborious and much more difficult than a simple * * or ` ` around the pieces of the response, and also much more error-prone.

    Jake, your analysis here is great, and thank you again for putting it together.  I'd like to ask for one further break down of your technical or software clients vs those without the need to insert code into their tickets.  I know you're loathe to support two avenues for sake of product consistency, which I understand (we are explaining that to our own customers on occasion as well), however, I will say it again, Markdown is absolutely industry standard for easy, immediate in-line formatting.  I know that that is complex, with the workflow you have presented.

    One further item: The WYSIWYG editor as it currently stands is crippling production in our Knowledge Base.  Currently we use a markdown to html editor with a good amount of massaging after the fact - quite a lot of extra work.  If formatting were as it is on the agent view, the amount of time spent on article creation and formatting would be cut to a quarter of what it is now.

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  • Chris Mccraw
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    Like @Rachel above, we provide very technical support.  We do not use your help center, but we do use markdown pretty extensively since we often communicate code and other "preformatted" text.  I'm not entirely opposed to you removing markdown, as long as:

    1) the editor does a good job of making that use case easier.  Since I haven't had cause to use yours (but I use markdown and preview all the time), I can't comment on its suitability, but I know that our own product includes a "WYSIWYG" editor that causes more problems than it solves, so I am wary.

    2) you provide some autoconversion of existing markdown macros and articles that folks have created.

     

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  • Tomás Girardi Julio
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    @Jake if it takes this huge article to convince us that markdown should go and a WSIWYG editor is the best option, then there's clearly something wrong here.

    Probably Zendesk experts didn't visit companies like ours: we are in the computer industry.  80% of our agents have no trouble learning new syntaxes, many already knew markdown and most use it daily, not only in Zendesk.  The remaining 20%, non-technical agents, learned markdown from coworkers quickly.

    Most of my coworkers don't like WYSIWYG editors (I even write my emails in GMail using MarkdownHere).

    I'm happy with Zendesk so far, but things like this makes me think that it's possibly not the most appropriate help desk software for the computer industry (and geeks like us)

    Here's an idea for having just one processing pipeline: put a markdown WYSIWYG editor that outputs markdown text. If you know markdown you can disable it. You don't even have to be creative: just do what others like StackEdit, Github, Textbox.io are doing (that last one took a very interesting approach: they render markdown to formated text when you press the enter key, altough they are lacking support for vital components like images and links)

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  • Jonathan March
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    @Jake, many thanks, reflective of much good thought.

    Like the previous commenters (strong selection bias I think), we are all tech, so efficiently transmitting code snippets is crucial, and the problems of lesser-skilled agents don't much concern us. (Which of course doesn't mean that they should not concern you!)

    The WYSIWYG HTML editors in Web Portal and Help Center have been atrocious and mediocre, respectively, especially for raw (code) snippets and other structured content (notably header levels). That, along with limited bandwidth and investment in markeddown macros and externally stored snippets, is why I haven't even looked at the current WYSIWYG beta yet.

    That said, IMO your argument could be persuasive, if it were well implemented. The editor would need to support being able to do almost everything from the keyboard, including switching in and out of code mode (both block and inline), and supporting header levels.

    And let's all be clear -- IIUC, this proposal could  vastly improve code handling, by allowing customers to send inline code to us, and by allowing us to reply with code by email. Not to mention seeing submitted screen shots inline (yes?) instead of having to toggle back and forth.

    Tangentially -- this was probably addressed elsewhere, so apologies if OT, but would you continue to support placeholders and conditional content based on field contents? That is quite important.

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  • peterThurrott
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    I am interested in:

    "We can finally begin preserving formatting on inbound emails"

    I am concerned about security for our agents. I also understand sanitizing HTML is a difficult problem. What are you doing to sanitize the HTML, and protect against injections (like XSS) and even potentially malicious remotely hosted image files?

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  • Tomáš Bláha
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    @Jake Thank you for the post. 

    I actually find it, while searching how to do markdown in Knowledge base section of your product. 

    Simple reason is, I do not want to create content several times. That means, pulling article via API, which is formatted by your editor, will most likely be malformed anywhere else. Or vice versa.

    I understand this article has been created as a bigger pie of your revenue comes from customers not using markdown, so it makes more sense in your case. 

    I do not agree with some of the reasoning around technical difficulties, which have you pointed out. There are available solutions eg. ghost platform to mention  at least one and I believe, if Zendesk would prefer markdown over WYSIWYG editor and majority of revenue coming from customers using markdown. The article would be about enhancing markdown support and why WYSIWYG is not the ideal approach.

    I am actually happy, I found your post. It is good to see Zendesk is sharing information, which will impact us (customers) in long term. This give us opportunity to plan our future better.

     

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  • Terry Knox
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    I run a pretty "non-techy" helpdesk and the WYSIWYG editor has received mixed reviews from the team. The agents who took the time to really learn Markdown are having to adjust and are finding drafting messages slower, though I suspect they'll learn to live with it once they get their heads around the shortcuts. The newer agents seem much happier with the new interface, as it's familiar to them from other products. It also helps newbs as they can draft messages in an Internal Note and copy it, formatting and all, into a Public Comment once it's signed off - no need to laboriously re-add the Markdown. 

    Personally, I think it's one of those "people will get used to it eventually" things (at least for my team) and I think it'll probably be better in the long-run, especially if maintaining formatting from customer emails will be possible - a constant bugbear currently. 

    I think my main concern with turning off Markdown right now is that the current WYSIWYG editor is still pretty buggy. We're having terrible trouble with in-line images and jumping cursors and we even have an issue with internal notes showing as public which we fear may be related. Replicating this stuff is really hard, so we haven't managed to raise as many tickets about it as I'd like, but we're considering going back for a while whilst bugs are squashed. 

    That's my tuppence - I hope it's of any help. 

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  • Erin Boyle
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    Hi Terry,

    We really do appreciate the feedback. I do want to zero in on your comments about the WYSIWYG editor in tickets being buggy. We are trying to get fixes out as soon as we can, and are trying to prioritize the more common and/or severe ones first. You are right that some of them are a bear to reproduce, so I appreciate your continued collaboration with us on this.

    As for the public/private issue (which we take very seriously), this was actually not related to the new rich text editor, and we've just rolled out a fix to your account.

    Best,
    Erin

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  • Terry Knox
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    Thanks Erin! We'll keep trying to raise tickets as and when we can reproduce stuff. 

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  • Mike Rucker
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    Previous commenters have already brought up my thoughts on the matter with "I do not want to create content several times" and "Markdown is absolutely industry standard for easy, immediate in-line formatting".  

    Markdown is portable and that's important to us.  It could be for moving existing content to Zendesk or using content created in Zendesk elsewhere.  Either way Markdown allows for compatibility between platforms.  Thinking that Markdown is "hard" is ridiculous and really makes me wonder who exactly Zendesk is being targeted at.  

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  • Peter Roberts
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    I echo Rachel Kelly's post.  Removing markdown support is a big step back for our organization and a very frustrating one at that.  We tried the new editor, were very frustrated with the lack of markdown support and the bugs. 

    We feel that by moving away from Markdown, you are also moving away from your very technical customers.  Our workflows have us married to using Markdown, so we need to continue to do that.  Please don't stop investing in your support for Markdown. 

    Are you considering your most technically advanced users in our market analysis on what your customers want?  It feels like you are catering to folks who aren't that technical with this decision. 

     

     

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  • Zach
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    If incoming messages have a plain text and HTML version, does Zendesk have multiple versions for outgoing messages?

    One of our customers says they can't open or reply to messages that come from Zendesk, and their IT person says it has to come to them in Plain Text. 

    When replying they get the attached error:

     "Error while executing filter XHTML - TypeError: Cannot read property 'parentNode' of null"

     

    I wouldn't rule out the issue being the end user's setup, but it would be good to know if we have the option to adjust the version of a message leaving Zendesk.

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  • Laura D.
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    Hi Zach, 

    Good question. Even with the rich text editor Zendesk sends along a plaintext version of the email with the formatted one. In Gmail I can check for this on a particular message with the "show original" option from the menu on the right side of the message. I'm not sure how this would be accessed in Outlook but it should be there. That said, if the formatted version isn't accessible I'm not sure how one would find the plaintext version.

    There aren't any settings in Zendesk to control outgoing messages (at least in regard to sending a plaintext and a formatted one), the system is simply set to send both versions.

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  • Ben
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    I've been suggested by @Christian to cross-post my feedback from Markdown for creating Help Center articles, on this thread here.

    -----

    -1K for not supporting Markdown

    I mean not only I am aghast at Zendesk still not having fully implemented Markdown (seeing the length/age of this thread), I can't believe you've just removed the little Markdown support you had implemented.

    Yes Markdown ain't perfect and has many flavours.

    So you have to make a choice.

    But that isn't that hard - just use what is popular & works, such as Github Flavoured Markdown

    And **Markdown is so much better that WISiWYG/HTML**.

    If you have clients who's staff can only use a WISY thing, then ok for them; but please add the possibility to choose whether one wants to write with a WISYthing, or write everything in Markdown (obviously don't try to implement both at the same time)

    Last, aside from previous commenters mentioning their existing documentation written in markdown on Github, and the obvious positive of simply being able to transfer it over to Zendesk as it is. I'd like to add the reverse scenario: the day a company decides to stop using Zendesk, it will be stuck with a convoluted process of recuperating a bunch of *HTML stuff*, versus simple+clean+portable Markdown source code/pages.

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  • Carrie Hayward
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    The trouble is, all these bugs in your WYSIWYG editor are still not fixed. Even when I go straight into the HTML and write the code for what I want, the result never ends up looking exactly like it is supposed to after I click "Update." And your emails strip out all the formatting, so the notifications our customers receive when we post look even worse than the posts!

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  • Erin Boyle
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    Hi Carrie,

    I know the pace of the bug fixes can be frustrating, but our engineers are working hard to make the entire ticket comment editor more stable. We've taken a step back to work on some fundamental improvements, and are hopeful that once this work is done, the rate of bug fixes is going to increase quite significantly.

    When you say you go straight into the HTML, are you talking about articles rather than tickets? Laura and I have been exclusively talking about the ticket WYSIWYG editor above, but it sounds like we may need to get you some updates on the Help Center side as well. I'll look into that for you now!

    Best,
    Erin

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  • Carrie Hayward
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    Yes, I guess our "posts" are your "articles." One of your support agents told me I should post my comments to him in this markup discussion even though our issue is with the WYSIWYG editor on the Help Center side, to help further the conversation...

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  • Sahra
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    I would be incredibly upset if Zendesk removed support for Markdown. The support my team provides is non-technical, but I still find Markdown to be my preferred formatting solution. The formatting is consistent and explicit. Nothing is assumed by the editor and it displays predictably. Formatting choices are limited, which I prefer as it keeps our outbound looking more uniform and leaves less room for things looking too creative.

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  • Brian Collins
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    Our team would also be **incredibly** upset if Zendesk removed support for Markdown. This is crucial for sharing our preformatted macro content across teams as @Chris also mentioned, and the new editor was very buggy (admittedly months ago when we tried it, but apparently there are still major issues from reading the comments here). 

    All agents who tested this feature had major problems with how it worked and *no one* prefered to use WYSIWYG after our initial testing. Markdown is much more efficient to type once you learn it and our agents learn this feature in the first few weeks on the job.

    Agents not knowing about markdown or how to use it sounds more like it should be handled with additional training for these teams and users, as opposed to removing this feature for those who are already efficient at using it.

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  • Mark Johnson
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    Is there any information about the timeline for enabling this type of functionality for  end-users? It'd be especially great for those, like us, using Zendesk for B2B support. 

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  • Jonathan Nathanson
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    I agree with everything you say in this article, including phasing Markdown out in future. 

    HOWEVER there is a glaring omission here. You do not support RTF when submitting ticket comments via the API.

    This is a massive problem - the API supports formatting comments by Markdown but not via RTF. You need to allow us to use the corresponding HTML tags for RTF (such as <b> or <strong>, <h1>, <ul><li></li></ul> etc).

    I now cannot automate beautifully formatted ticket comments because our Zendesk instance has switched to RTF instead of Markdown, and there is no user-level way to change the settings.

    This feature is a must have.

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  • Olivier Creurer
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    My team is currently in the process of migrating to Zendesk, and we're really thrilled about the workflows, integrations and tools that'll bolster our support processes. 

    That said, I'll echo a lot of sentiments that have been expressed elsewhere in this thread: for support teams providing advanced technical help like ours, the lack of markdown formatting in the Help Center especially is a major hindrance. In our case, it's actually preventing us from seriously planning a transition to using Zendesk's offering as our primary, customer-facing Help Center -- something we'd be interested in exploring in the future.  

    If the WYSIWYG editor can mitigate the issues we've faced (especially around creating articles that prominently feature code blocks), then we'll be able to better assess the solution. 

     

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  • Kiran Max Weber
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    Hi Oliver,

    We're thrilled that you and your team are thrilled about migrating to Zendesk!

    "... the lack of markdown formatting in the Help Center especially is a major hindrance" 

    How about writing in Markdown outside of an Article - like in iA Writer - and then pasting the generated HTML into the "Source code" field of the Article (see animated GIF below)?

    Maybe this will also mitigate the issues you've had with the WYSIWYG editor around code?


     

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  • Scott Little
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    Hello,

    The technical description of why Zendesk wants to phase out markdown does make some sense, especially considering that you say that very few actual users use markdown (just the vocal ones here).

    The one thing that I don't understand is that you don't seem to have considered just allowing markdown as an entry mechanism and not storage. I can't really see any downsides to allowing us to enter the content in markdown - render that into html and store that. Then you don't have the challenge of not having to render the markdown at display time.

    Very few users are going to email markdown in to the helpdesk and in the web interface, again if the user inputs markdown, do the rendering at that time and store it.

    It is rare to need to go editing the content, and in the cases where it is edited (Help Centre etc) it seems that most are wanting to use data that they copy and paste in, rather than maintaining it within the editor, if I read that correctly in the above comments.

    Scott

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  • Manu Raivio
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    I don't fundamentally care about how it's all done (and, this how most of your customers think): I just want a great help centre editor and that's still lacking.

    It's about to be 2 years since Christian Colding wrote here (https://support.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/community/posts/203439186-Markdown-for-creating-Help-Center-articles?page=3): 

    "I hope that gives you some insight into what we are doing and then I hope you'll come back later and see that we truly got our ***** together."

    I would love to get an update on what's going on with the Help Centre? Should I stick around or move on to a better platform?

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  • Christian Colding
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    Hi Manu,

    Unfortunately we have not made as many strives into an improved editor as we wanted. Markdown is still not something we are looking at, but we are looking at improving the editor. Are there specific features that you feel like you are lacking?

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  • Jonathan Nathanson
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    Hi Christian,

    I think there are some really obvious things you guys should do for formatting both Help Centre posts and ticket comments.

    1. For a start, your documentation should have a comprehensive answer as to the various methods available to format content. This should be the case for both using Zendesk's GUI, as well as for using the API. It took me months to get the information out of your support team about how to use the html_body property. If I remember correctly, your documentation does not even include this as a permitted PUT field - only listing it in the example API response. I raised this with you about 6 months ago and nothing has changed in your docs. (SEE: my comment in this thread on Apr 28th 2016.)

    2. Make it easier for us to add custom styling! Right now I'm one of the only people in my organisation that can add content to our Help Centre because of the amount of HTML code I need to write in the article to ensure it provides the right kind of customer experience. Take a look at our How to: Use the Help Centre article on our instance. You see those links at the top to jump to sections in the article? Right faff. Impossible to do without a working knowledge of HTML. This is but one example of the kinds of features content creators need to feel like the Help Centre is a good tool for publishing help for users.

    3. How many of your customers are digital / software related companies? We're not even strictly a software company, we're a telecommunications provider, but a lot of what we write does involve talking to our customers about coding and configuring devices. There's not even a basic codeblock element available in your content editor! This is something that markdown did allow us to do, and now your "improved" WYSIWYG editor doesn't have a replacement feature...

    We for one are investigating Zendesk alternatives, not because Zendesk isn't a fantastic tool with a great API etc, but because you never listen to us when we tell you about things that make using Zendesk a bit of a crap experience. I'd rather lose the fine polish and great telephone support you provide us, if I could gain genuine interest and responsiveness from another software vendor. You wouldn't believe the amount of times a ticket or a call with you guys has ended with me feeling like you've said "f*** you we won't do that, but have a nice day! :)" ....

    IMHO: Zendesk are too busy buying new companies, integrating them and expanding your offering to silly things like bots and SMS and have forgotten that companies like us pay you six figures a year for your core proposition: ticketing. And you don't seem to care for developing it, except to make it more sticky and more profitable, without actually delivering new value to us. You've forgotten, it seems, how you reached the heady heights you now find yourselves in; you've forgotten what made Zendesk good.

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  • Carrie Hayward
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    ^^THIS. Item No. 2 is a particular pain point for us. We've had to completely redesign our article templates to strip out all our custom CSS because it looks so terrible now in the email notifications ZenDesk sends our customers. Even with straight HTML, our emails are no longer distinctive, stylish or easy to read. And while I understand the reasons that our images no longer display in email notifications, it feels like a big reduction in service based on what we use ZenDesk for.

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  • Jonathan March
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    +1 re code blocks (item 3).

    This is a major HC pain point for us.

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  • Manu Raivio
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    Hi Christian,

    thanks for jumping on the thread here. I think the post above by Jonathan is excellent. Zendesk makes reactive support great; but that's not what most customer oriented companies want to be doing. It's the opposite; enabling customer to find answers themselves, easily. 

    That's why the entire Help Centre experience in Zendesk is dud. It's wholly inadequate from creating content to managing it effectively. Why are there two different interfaces for managing and arranging articles? :D And on the customer-facing side there is one layout and the default navigation is pretty onerous by modern development standards. 

    So, while you asked about features, I have to throw it back to you with "put yourself in the shoes of a content creator/manager", and you'll come up with 100 features in a week. And then, yes for example code blocks and syntax highlighting would be great! Imagine had you enabled markup while you work on the better editor experience. Just in the meantime. Because 2 years is a long time to be coming back empty handed. 

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