Medium needs to support Latex for math and science

Medium is a great story telling platform but it falls short for publishing any serious science and math related articles. The big issue with this type of content on Medium is that it relies on math which can’t be easily rendered on Medium. Most writing platforms struggle with math because the formulas use precision formatting that can’t be done in a simple editor. The solution to this problem is a system called Latex.

Latex is document preparation system designed to support precision typesetting. It is most often used for medium-to-large scientific documents but it does support pretty much any form of publishing. In laymen’s terms, Latex is a simple scripting language that you can run through a Latex parser to generate great looking high quality typesetting. If for example you want to create a nice looking mathematical formula like this:

Screenshot image of a formula generated in Latex

You would simply send the following text into a latex parser:

f_m(n) > 2uparrow^{m-1}n

The parser would output the nicely formatted formula and you would be good to go.

f_m(n) > 2 \uparrow^{m-1}n

The nice thing about using Latex is that the syntax is standardized across many platforms. It is also very popular among the science and math communities. If you publish anything scientific or mathematical you probably already use Latex. Even Wikipedia uses Latex to format formulas for its pages.

Adding Latex support to Medium should be trivial. Obviously there would be some work involved but it wouldn’t take up too many resources. There are popular open source projects that make it very easy to add support to an existing website. One of those examples is MathJax.

MathJax is a high quality javascript project that supports several different typesetting languages (including Latex) and outputs HTML+CSS, SVG and MathML. It runs on all browsers and the resulting output looks great because it scales to fit the surrounding text. It also takes advantage of web fonts to create very clean and crisp text similar to what you already see on Medium.

You can see some examples of Latex on my math blog. Here is an example of an article I wrote on Graham’s number which is famous for being one of the biggest numbers ever used in a proof. But I digress.

Medium delivers content to a lot of people so it needs to be fast and scalable. MathJax fits this requirement because it too is scalable. It runs client side in the browser so it won’t consume expensive cloud CPU cycles. It also doesn’t need to be delivered to the browser on every page load. Once a user has it, it can be reused until Medium decides to update it.

MathJax is supported by many scientific organizations including IEEE, American Mathematical Society, APS Physics, Mathematical Association of America, American Institute of Physics, Oxford University Press, and the list goes on. The project is here to stay and will likely continue to be supported way into the future.

I’d like to see Medium take math seriously and make it look as good as the rest of their content. The Medium platform adds a lot of value for publishers including those who want to write scientific and mathematical articles. I’d love to see Latex support adopted in a future version.

By joshkerr

Josh is an 8x startup founder and angel investor.

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