The importance of online dating

The other day I gave some feedback on a blog post by a well-known provider of WordPress tools. Sticking my nose in, as is my wont, I suggested that it might be better if the blog displayed the date of posts. It turned out it was there, on the left-hand side of the main text in a funky designy way – but because I have my browser zoomed at 120% for easier reading the date was off my screen and I never saw it.

I’d say that’s bad design;┬ápresumably the company doesn’t agree. But anyway, it reminded me of one of the most common mistakes I see on web content: not putting a date on it.

You see it all over the place, from press releases to personal biographies. People say stuff like, “Last year I did…” or “Today we announced…” (which was indeed part of the aforementioned blog).┬áThat may be OK for people who follow your stuff and see the new thing pop up right then: like you, they can set it in context automatically. But stuff on the web draws in a wider audience (you hope!) and persists over time.

What about somebody who’s interested in Thing X and discovers your post about it a year later? They need some context clues to decide how to deal with it. Perhaps they get excited and tell their followers about it, only to look silly when they find out it’s old news. Will they trust you as an info source after they’ve experienced that sort of deflation?

What about somebody who reads about that thing you did “last year”? For people who spot the ambiguity that creates a sort of mental itch. Most people will just read it as the year previous to the current one – but it could be content you wrote several years ago (perhaps even a fragment that’s survived multiple revisions of the page).

Give your readers the context they need for clear understanding of what happened when. If it’s date-specific, like a project announcement, make sure time information is one of the first things the reader sees. If it’s general text, be aware of posterity and avoid ambiguous terms like “last year” – for example, “In 2012 I gained my qualification in…” won’t go out of date.

Don’t leave your content adrift on the seas of time.


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