Dates provide context

I was reading Joel Hooks’ article on “digital gardens”. He argues:

“Chronologically sorted pages of posts aren’t how people actually use the internet.”

This may be true (unless you spend most of your time reading mail, news, blog posts, or social media). Even so, dates can provide context.

Hooks’ post (which is worth reading, by the way, as well as his others) is not dated, underscoring his perspective that dates are not as important as we might make them out to be. But there’s a difference between presenting by date and including a date. Hooks includes a date in the footer of the website, but it’s hard to tell what that date means.

I’m not picking on Hooks here. His post got me thinking. Dates are important metadata. When was [x] written? Other articles and information published around the same time might provide insight into an author’s line of thinking. People change their minds as they learn over time, so it could be possible to discover how authors’ ideas change over time. In articles of an instructional nature, dates can tell us a lot about the relevance of the information provided. Not all writing is evergreen.

Omitting dates might offer the illusion of perpetual relevance. Leaving out this important bit of context might mask how current the content is or how often it’s updated. Authors are free to do this, of course. That’s part of the beauty of web publishing.

I don’t care if articles are presented by date. But in many cases, whether on “digital gardens” or blogs, I feel I’m missing something useful when I can’t find a date at all.

(I wrote this at around 17:30 UTC+1 on March 5, 2021, in case you’re wondering.)