On the importance of the date

This is not another blog post about Twitter and its very public and very possible fallout; quite refreshing right? Not that the opportunities to write about it are lacking, but it’s nice to talk about something else from time to time.

So today we’re talking about the date. Fellow Blot-user Roberto Mateu on his blog 5typos.net, says it all:

I found an old notebook with notes and writings. If it weren’t for a small date scribbled on the top right, it would have been really hard to pinpoint when I wrote it.

In fact, I have many similar notebooks with stuff on them that I can’t bother to deduce when they were written. Just 10 characters — if you use ISO dates — are the difference between curiosity and archeology.

When I read this blog post this morning I couldn’t agree more. Date is a really big indicator of the context of a news article, of a note, of a draft, of most things in life really, whether they are yours, or public. Even when you find an old receipt in a drawer, the thing you bought is just as interesting as the date of the purchase. Same goes for old train tickets, the one that were made of paper: the departure and destination cities of the trip are only half of the nostalgia.

For photos, the date is even more critical. How many times have I found old photographs and tried to guess when they were taken? I think we’ve all experienced it. If you print photos, always remind yourself to write down the date on the back: it will be precious one day, for you or others.

For digital photos the story is the same. I have loads of pictures stored on my iCloud account from my year spent abroad as a student, in Scotland. Before the many hours I had to spend correcting their date with software, most of them shared the exact same date: the date of the day I did a terrible job of importing the back-up DVDs (remember those?) to a new computer or hard drive, I can’t remember. A whole year of memories reduced to a single day a few years after.

I’ve had my share of struggle on this website regarding the best way to display dates, and not only on entry pages when it is obviously mandatory. On the homepage of a blog, the date is the quickest way to see how regularly it is updated, when the latest post was published, etc. The date is arguably the essence of what makes a blog a “web log.” So I had to chose between having the date displayed in front of each blog post link on the homepage — as it traditionally is — or adding a “last updated” indicator at the bottom of the page, which I think is the best compromise for my overall minimalist design.

Somehow I find it weird that users have to rely on websites to display dates properly, especially for news articles or social media posts. For the user it means this critical piece of information is never displayed the same way, at the same place, nor in the same format, if it is displayed at all by the site owner, which can be a problem. And don’t get me started on blog posts with an ever-changing date for SEO “reasons.”

Maybe this is something web browsers should display, like the favicon or the meta title? I think it would be nice to have a little indicator, next to the URL bar for instance, indicating the date of the content you’re currently seeing. It would make it — I think — more accessible too: each user could define the format they want to see, and it would solve the issue of dates displayed like 03/04/2022: is it 3rd of April or is 4th of March? It would also allow users to know where to look for the date, a little like the RSS feed logo used to appear, back in the days.