I recently wrote an answer in which I wanted to callout text that wasn't a quote. I wanted it to clearly standout from the rest of the answer. However, it seems there isn't a way to distinguish visually a quote from other called out text. We do have a code block which could do that, but when I did that in my answer it was edited out as not being an approrpiate use of the format. (What is a code block used for in RPG.SE anyways?)

It would be helpful if we could create a "callout block", maybe using a >> syntax which would create a green or blue background instead of the yellow.

plain text colored boxes with emphasis

The first image has bold italics and regular text. There are two paragraphs in each picture which should stand out from the other text. Clearly in the second picture, those boxes take no effort to spot, while in the first picture, if you are scrolling quickly you might miss it.

There a number of use cases here, for a question and answer site.

  1. Giving contrary points of view within an answer.
  2. Calling attention to quotes vs asides
  3. Comparing rules from different games or editions.
  4. Highlighting a "short answer" from the longer answer which contains quotes.

Yes, the current tools allow you to do these things, but subtle predefined colors, do it better, allowing you to use bold and italics within the text blocks as well. You'll notice that in both images, some words are emphasized within the text itself, but the colored boxed ones are easier to spot without less mental effort.

  • \$\begingroup\$ What's the use case for this callout? "Make text stand out from other text" is something we already have a tool for, which is emphasis. There's semantic meaning to quotes and code blocks, but what's the purpose of this one? (You can also quote yourself in a quote box.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 9 '14 at 7:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs See here for how colored boxes makes text more appealing rather than just using bold and italics. localbusinesscoachonline.com/coachnotes/… \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 9 '14 at 7:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ That's highly debatable (it can also look really ugly) but that wasn't the question. We're not a site of visual designers, and this platform isn't for beautiful visual design. What's the semantic meaning of this second callout box? What would go in it? What meaning would it convey that we can't adequately do such that having the box would benefit us? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 9 '14 at 7:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs Why have text boxes at all? A simple "This is a quote" works fine. Websites and information is enhanced by different call out boxes to draw attention away from long blocks of text. They do a much better job than Bold Italics or Underlines. Reading long strings of text that are all in bold is really quite jarring and often obnoxious. As the sentences get longer the bold becomes less informative, when long blocks of text are in italics the effect is quickly lost. When scanning a long answer, you may not even notice that a paragraph is italicized, as it won't jump out at you \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 9 '14 at 7:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ We have quote boxes because they convey added meaning of "this is a quote." You're not answering the question: what is the conveyed meaning of putting text in this callout you're proposing? You've said "see here, they can look nice," and then challenged me asserting if I'm going to ask this, why have any of this stuff at all. Both of those are beside the point. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 9 '14 at 8:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs You just wrote earlier, that it's ok to not use a quote box for quotes. There are many examples on the site of quote boxes not being used for quotes. So no, the quote box does not convey the added meaning of "this is a quote" It only conveys the meaning that the text in the box is of a different context than the other text. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 9 '14 at 8:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ So are you going to answer the question, or just keep dodging it argumentatively and not provide us with a use case? Because, seriously, you're being argumentative here to no constructive effect, when all I asked for is a use case for why this text box should exist and be used and what meaning it adds. If it's to make text distinguished from its surroundings, we have a tool for that already. What's important is: what meaning does it add in this case by being distinguished? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 9 '14 at 8:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ This suggestion should be taken to the main Stack Exchange meta, because it's the kind of modification that'd probably be implemented across all the Stacks or not at all. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Jul 9 '14 at 14:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JonathanHobbs From the original context, the intended meaning was long example text. It contained a game-system elevator pitch. But I agree: that's too narrow to justify dedicated "long example text" markup; and justifying it by saying more different things can go in it undermines any semantics it could have, making it just visual dressing. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 9 '14 at 15:57

The reason we have a code block is that the codebase is inherited from Stack Overflow, and making changes like that in specific sites is usually discouraged, due to requiring developer work. Also, code blocks aren't just a generic "this makes it look different" block, but has the semantic meaning of code, which allows different apps, browsers and such to display it as such - with syntax highlighting, monospaced fonts, no word-wrapping and so forth. (Internally, it's a <pre> block, a preformatted text block).

As for why we can't have an additional quote block, differentiated by color - I think this is equivalent to simply having the option to choose font color and face, options that are a part of all word processors, but were explicitly chosen to be disabled here. Here's a relevant Meta.SE question:

Where the voting (-20 for the question, +11/+19 for the answers against it) makes it clear that people see it as a feature that adds more noise for little gain.

I think your suggestion isn't necessarily as noisy as allowing arbitrary colors, but it's still not particularly necessary - the number of times I felt the need for two different quote blocks formatted differently were... well, never, I think. We have italics for differentiating text and we have boldface for emphasis, two clear-cut but not too jarring text decorations, and I think they work fine.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Code blocks are a code tag inside a pre tag, not just a pre tag. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 9 '14 at 7:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would agree that font colors are a bad idea. I would not agree that two or three box colors would be a bad idea. Adding green, blue and red could be really helpful for all sorts of use cases actually, now that I think about it more. These things have become standards in manuals and textbooks. \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 9 '14 at 7:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ What cases? They have semantic meaning in those manuals and textbooks - this site isn't manuals and textbooks, nor is it full of careful designers who won't overuse those blocks to ugly effect. (Case in point: people use code for not-code, because it looks different. Sometimes they even use it for quotes.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jul 9 '14 at 7:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ The main issue here is that Stack Exchange isn't a word processor, a print layout editor or even a CMS like Wordpress. It's a question and answer site. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Jul 9 '14 at 8:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lisardggY Because it's a question an answer site, is exactly why its best to be able to call out text with the least amount of mental effort. (while making sure the site doesn't look ugly) \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 9 '14 at 8:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Btw, see this question here which avoids the issue of too many colors, and has upvotes. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/116251/… \$\endgroup\$ – GMNoob Jul 9 '14 at 8:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMNoob I'm still unclear on what the actual use-case is. If someone is reading the answer, the blockquote'd text and the surrounding text will make it clear what the source of the text is if it's well-written, hence there will be no confusion. If someone is just skimming without reading... then it doesn't matter if they can't tell the difference between callouts and quotes, because they're not reading it. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 9 '14 at 16:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I seem to have argued myself into "this feature is terrible" corner, which wasn't my original intention. I don't think it's a bad feature, I just don't think its utility is big enough to warrant the work. \$\endgroup\$ – lisardggY Jul 9 '14 at 16:37

My other answer tried to address why this probably isn't a good enough feature to warrant the relevant dev work, but I think this answer is more practical and actionable:

Regardless of whether it's a good or bad idea, RPG Meta isn't the right place for this feature suggestion.

I'm almost certain that changes to the Markdown parser will require network-wide changes, and will apply to other Stack Exchange sites, as well as RPG.SE. As such, it's entirely irrelevant what the conclusion of us here on RPG Meta is, this is a network-wide feature request, and as such, should be suggested in Meta.StackExchange. This will allow users from all over the network to weigh in, and possibly convince the SE team that it's worth putting dev hours to add.


I do not believe that adding such a feature would be to the benefit of Stack Exchange in general, and I have some reasons why.

Stack Exchange Philosophy

The purpose of Stack Exchange is to create a knowledgebase of questions and answers that are easy for any old person to find and use to get over a problem they are having. Jeff Atwood, a founder, talks about how they learned that allowing freeform discussion (which had been the norm on the major venue before SEs, forums) was inimical to that purpose, on his blog:

At Stack Exchange, one of the tricky things we learned about Q&A is that if your goal is to have an excellent signal to noise ratio, you must suppress discussion. Stack Exchange only supports the absolute minimum amount of discussion necessary to produce great questions and great answers. That's why answers get constantly re-ordered by votes, that's why comments have limited formatting and length and only a few display, and so forth. Almost every design decision we made was informed by our desire to push discussion down, to inhibit it in every way we could. Spare us the long-winded diatribe, just answer the damn question already.

Suppressing discussion is one way in which SE attempts to separate signal from noise. But it's not the only way. The formatting options for posts on SE are very limited compared to other platforms around the web. This is done on purpose to limit the freedom of the community in composing responses. The marginal benefits of the proper use of each formatting feature decrease rapidly, whereas the potential for abuse and confusion increase rapidly (see: MySpace). For this reason, adding extra formatting flavor is rarely the best move for Stack Exchange.

Markdown Philosophy

Separate from that, we have Markdown itself, which is the formatting method that is used on Stack Exchange. John Gruber describes the driver of Markdown's syntax as the emulation of plaintext:

A Markdown-formatted document should be publishable as-is, as plain text, without looking like it’s been marked up with tags or formatting instructions. . . . the single biggest source of inspiration for Markdown’s syntax is the format of plain text email.

The proposed formatting does not meet this standard. Plaintext has no color, and there is not an intuitive mapping to it. It's significantly to Stack Exchange's benefit to deviate from the Markdown "standard" as little as possible, so this change is not likely to be made from our side.


No. Too many colors will make the site look bad. Also there isn't enough need to warrant the time coding the new feature.


Yes, it will be useful to have multiple ways to highlight blocks of prose so code blocks remain only used for code.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Code blocks remain only for code already even without such a feature. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jul 9 '14 at 16:00

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