Message Markup Language (MML)

It hasn't been all that long since we first started sending messages across the internet to a variety of different apps and platforms. In the beginning, messages were composed and received using plain text. This worked well but wasn't the best UX for the sender or the recipient so we eventually started using markup to make messaging much more user friendly. Here's an overview on how that works today.

What is MML?

Message Markup Language (MML) is a way of formatting text messages or other kinds of electronic communication in a structured way. It's a set of rules and syntax that define how different parts of a message should be organized and displayed.

MML is often used in automated messaging systems, such as chatbots or email marketing campaigns, to make sure that messages are consistent and easy to read. It allows message senders to add formatting, links, images, and other multimedia elements to their messages, which can make them more engaging and effective.

Think of MML as a set of instructions that tells your messaging system how to display your message and allows you to add extra features to make your messages more interesting and informative.

Where is MML commonly used?

There are many services that currently use Message Markup to format and structure their messages. Some examples include:

  1. Email marketing platforms Mailchimp and Constant Contact use MML to allow users to format and customize their email campaigns.

  2. Chatbots and messaging platforms Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp use MML to format messages and add interactive features like buttons and quick replies.

  3. Customer service and support systems Zendesk and Freshdesk use MML to format responses and make them easier to read and understand.

  4. Social media platforms Twitter and Discord use MML to allow users to add formatting, hashtags, and links to their posts.

Overall, MML is a widely-used standard for formatting and structuring messages across many different types of communication channels and platforms.

How does MML work?

MML works by using a set of codes or tags that are added to a message to indicate how it should be formatted and displayed. These codes are usually enclosed in brackets and placed around the text that they apply to.

For example, to make a word bold, you might surround it with a bold tag <b>. When the message is displayed, the text inside the bold tags will be formatted to appear in bold.

MML can also be used to add links, images, and other multimedia elements to a message. For example, you might use an image tag to embed a picture in a message or a link tag to create a clickable link.

Different messaging systems may use slightly different versions of MML, but the basic idea is the same. By using these codes or tags, senders can format their messages in a consistent and structured way, which can make them more effective and engaging for the recipient.

Examples of MML

Here are some examples and where message markup might be used:

  1. Bold and Italic These are some of the most common MML tags. The <b> tag can be used to make text bold, while the <i> tag can be used to make text italic. These tags might be used in email marketing campaigns or chatbots to emphasize important information or make certain words stand out. Example: <b> This text is bold </b> and <i> this text is italic </i>.

  2. Links The <a> tag can be used to create a hyperlink to another webpage or resource. This tag might be used in email marketing campaigns, chatbots, or social media posts to direct users to more information or a call to action. Example: <a href="">Click here</a> to learn more.

  3. Images The <img> tag can be used to embed an image into a message. This tag might be used in email marketing campaigns or chatbots to add visual interest or illustrate a point. Example: <img src="" alt="A descriptive text of the image">

  4. Buttons The <button> tag can be used to create clickable buttons in a message. This tag might be used in chatbots to provide users with a set of predefined options to choose from. Example: <button value="yes">Yes</button> <button value="no">No</button>

  5. Lists The <ul> and <ol> tags can be used to create bulleted or numbered lists. These tags might be used in customer service or support systems to provide step-by-step instructions or in email campaigns to list features or benefits of a product. Example:

    <li>List item 1</li>
    <li>List item 2</li>
    <li>List item 3</li>

    These are just a few examples of the many tags that are available. The specific tags and how they are used will depend on the messaging system or platform being used and the specific needs of the message sender.

Message Markup Language best practices

Here are some best practices and guidelines for marking up messages effectively:

  1. Use tags sparingly Overusing tags can make messages cluttered and difficult to read. Use tags only when necessary and appropriate to enhance the message content and readability.

  2. Follow platform-specific guidelines Different messaging systems and platforms may have their own guidelines and limitations for using MML. Be sure to follow these guidelines to ensure consistent message display and prevent errors.

  3. Use accessible MML Consider the needs of all users, including those with disabilities, when using MML tags. Avoid using tags that may not be compatible with assistive technologies, and provide alternative text descriptions for multimedia elements like images or videos.

  4. Test across devices and platforms Test MML-formatted messages across different devices and platforms to ensure consistent display and readability. This is particularly important for multimedia elements like images or videos, which may not display correctly on all devices.

  5. Use a structured approach Use tags to structure messages into sections or blocks, making them easier to read and navigate. Use appropriate headings, lists, and other formatting elements to enhance message structure and organization.

  6. Avoid security risks Avoid using MML tags that may pose a security risk, such as those that can be used to embed malicious code or links in messages. Use only trusted sources for multimedia elements like images or videos.

  7. Consider the user experience Use MML tags to enhance the user experience and engagement with messaging systems. Consider the tone and style of the message, as well as the target audience, when choosing formatting and multimedia elements.

Overall, composing messages with markup language effectively requires careful consideration of the message content, the target audience, and the platform being used. By following best practices and guidelines for use, messages can be more engaging, readable, and accessible for all users.

What are the limitations of Message Markup Language?

While MML is a widely-used standard for formatting and structuring messages, there are a few limitations to keep in mind:

  1. Compatibility Not all messaging platforms support MML or the same set of tags. This can make it difficult to ensure that your message will be displayed consistently across all devices and platforms.

  2. Complexity Depending on the specific tags being used, formatting a message with MML can be complex and time-consuming, especially for messages with multiple formatting elements or multimedia elements.

  3. Accessibility MML tags may not be compatible with assistive technologies used by people with disabilities, such as screen readers or text-to-speech software, which can make it difficult for them to understand or interact with messages formatted with it.

  4. Security Some MML tags can be used to embed malicious code or links in messages, which can pose a security risk to users who click on them.

  5. User experience Overuse or improper use of tags can make messages difficult to read or navigate, which can lead to a negative user experience and lower engagement.

Overall, while markup can be a useful tool for formatting and structuring messages, it's important to consider the limitations and potential drawbacks before deciding to use it.

What alternatives are available if MML can’t be used?

There are a few other options for formatting and structuring your messages, depending on the type of messaging system or platform you're using:

  1. Plain text The simplest option is to send your message as plain text, without any formatting or special features. This can be useful for simple, straightforward messages where formatting isn't necessary.

  2. Rich Text Format (RTF) Some messaging systems and word processors support Rich Text Format (RTF), which allows you to add basic formatting like bold, italic, and underlining, as well as hyperlinks and images.

  3. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) HTML is a more advanced option that allows you to create complex formatting and layout for your messages, including tables, columns, and styles. However, HTML requires more technical knowledge and may not be supported by all messaging systems and platforms.

  4. Markdown Markdown is a lightweight markup language that is designed to be easy to read and write while still allowing for basic formatting like headers, lists, and emphasis. Markdown can be converted to HTML or other formats and is supported by many messaging systems and platforms.

Ultimately, the best option depends on your specific needs and the capabilities of the messaging platform you're using.

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