If You Don’t Date Your Work, It Sucks.

I probably get more upset than is reasonable when I come across articles with no date on them. I scroll furiously for a few minutes, try to see if the date was put in some stupid place like the fine print written in almost-white-on-white at the bottom of the post surrounded by ads. Then I skim the article looking for references to software versions that might clue me in on how old this material is. Then I check the sidebars to see if there’s some kind of “About this Post” block. Finally, I make a mental note of the domain in a little mental list I use to further filter my Google searches in the future. Then I close the browser window in disgust. If it weren’t completely gross and socially unacceptable to do so, I would spit on the floor every time this happened.

Why would you NOT date your articles? In almost every single theme for every single content management solution written in any language and backed by any database, “Date” is a default element. Why would you remove it? It is almost guaranteed to be more work to remove it. Why would you go through actual work to make your own writing less useful to others?

What happens when you don’t date your articles?

  1. People have no idea whether your article has anything to do with what they’re working on.  If you wrote an article about the Linux kernel in 1996, it’s of no use to me *now*, even if it was pretty hardcore at the time.
  2. Readers are forced to skim your article looking for references to software versions to see if your article is actually meaningful to them or not. Why make it hard for people to know whether your article is useful? The only reason I can think of is that you already know your articles are old, so not dating them insures that people at least skim enough to see some of the ads on your site. You are irreversibly lame if you do this.
  3. It causes near seizures in people like me who really hate when you don’t date your work, as well as all of your past teachers, who no doubt demanded that you sign and date your work.
  4. Every time you don’t date an article online, a seal pup is clubbed to death in the arctic, and a polar bear gets stranded on a piece of ice.

At some point, I will make an actual list of web sites that regularly do not date their work. A sort of hall of shame for sites that fail to link their writing to some kind of time-based context. If you have sites you’d like to add, let me know in the comments.

  • http://blog.elzapp.com elzapp

    I truly agree.

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  • Joaquin

    Yes, absolutely.
    Docs with no date should be automatically erased.
    +1

  • http://www.funsize.net Kevin Horn

    Sing it, brother!

    This is my biggest pet peeve regarding content on the Internet. Followed closely by people who write articles about software and don’t include any reference to which version they’re writing about.

  • http://jon.netdork.net Jon Angliss

    I agree completely. I have the same pet-peeve about sites that don’t date. Just one step better is putting a day, and month, but no year. Not including dates on release information for software is just as bad too.

  • m0j0

    YES. I see that a lot too — no year!! WTF are they thinking!

  • m0j0

    Yeah, I don’t mention it explicitly, but not mentioning the version of the software your article about makes it pretty much useless. Add to that not having a date on there that we can use to give us an idea of the version *range*, and it’s worse than useless, because it actually wastes time while we all figure out that it’s useless.

  • Jeff Forcier

    Another +1 here — this is one of my biggest pet peeves too. It’s absolutely infuriating and inexcusable. What’s really the kicker is when it happens on sites with an otherwise excellent design, by technically competent people.

    Almost worse? When they include the month and day *and not the year*! See: http://robots.thoughtbot.com/. Running across one of their posts in a Google search is just horrible.

  • http://philhassey.com phil hassey

    +1 You speak the truth.

  • Henrik N

    You could use this for your list: http://linkli.st/

    I sometimes feel like making one with sites that email your password in plain text.

  • Henrik N

    Oh, and I should add that one of my pet peeves is dates and times on the Internet without an explicitly stated time zone, when it’s not obvious from the context (e.g. a site servicing a country with a single time zone).

    Not that having the zone is important for most blog articles ;) Absolutely frustrating where it does matter, though.

  • http://cubeantics.com Robert

    adding dates also is one of the little things you can do to show that you care about what you are working on.

  • pat

    I like when they use a javascript today() to make it seem as though the article was written today, everyday, for all eternity. (yes, I’ve seen this)

  • http://sites.google.com/site/yacoset/ C. Lawrence Wenham

    Google made the CMS for my site and didn’t include datestamps, but even if it did I don’t know what date I’d add:

    1: When I started jotting down the ideas
    2: When I first linked it to the front page
    3: When I last made changes to it

    Because it’s a wiki site the content of any page definitely exists in the context of time, but can change over time. I’ve re-written articles from scratch to say the same thing as it used to say, but more concisely. I don’t know what date to put on these.

  • http://townx.org/ Elliot Smith

    Date everything, I say. I even date pages in my notebooks. You never know when it might come in handy: spare a thought for historians of the future.

  • Scott

    Yep…not dating an article is a bog pet peeve of mine as well. It ranks right behind the online versions of newspapers that don’t list the city and, more importantly, the state in which they are located.

  • Scott

    er..not proofreading is another one…BIG pet peeve, not bog

  • http://stevelosh.com/ Steve Losh

    In my last blog post at http://stevelosh.com/blog/2010/01/moving-from-django-to-hyde/#ago-dates I said that I hate when blogs don’t provide a nice, human-readable age for entries (like “3 months ago”). I didn’t even think about people that post work without any dates at all. Does that really still happen?

  • Peter

    Dude. I totally agreed. I once dated this chick, but I was workaholic, and she quickly broke up with me. Now I date my work. That’s all the woman I need. I spend all my time with my work. Yup. All the woman I need.

  • http://drmomentum.com/aces/ JP

    Every content creator needs to read this and take it to heart. I cannot believe how many articles I read which are frustratingly rendered nearly useless because they are not dated. Thanks for writing this.

  • Adrian

    Sign it too, please. Don’t make me digging around for an author name.

  • http://www.wolf-howl.com graywolf

    Google will show the date in SERP’s, sometimes people will avoid clicking on results because they assume it’s old and outdated, when it’s not. Easiest way to get around that not put a date on the page. Now if Google gave you a way to not show dates in results publishers wouldn’t have to do that. Sadly there is no option.

  • http://blog.jtenos.com/ Joe Enos

    I’m with you 100% – drives me nuts. Of course, if you feel this way, shouldn’t you include the date in your article? It’s missing altogether.

    Made you look…

  • http://penguinpetes.com/ Penguin Pete

    Great, but how do you get people to read the date? I’ve given up writing tutorials for software whose interface changes from one release to another (Gimp and Blender for the elephant example), because even with a dated article and stating the version number in the beginning in bold letters, I still get comments going, “This didn’t work! You suck!” some three years later…

  • http://icant.co.uk Chris Heilmann

    Very true. I’ve mentioned this numerous times (also in my developer evangelism handbook: http://developer-evangelism.com/writing.php#dating) and I found archive.org’s wayback machine a good tool. Sometimes I add a comment that tells the world how old this is but most blogs now close comments on old articles as spammers love to try to comment there.

  • charlotte

    There are valid reasons for not dating your articles. It really depends on the topic. I agree that for technology posts it is really irritating and for specific tips that may stop working as well. But if you have a website on a very general, more or less timeless subject, it can be a good idea not to date, because people will often not read things that are dated in 2006, because they perceive the information as “old” and therefore less valuable. Say, you have a website with yoga exercises or interesting latin words. In that case it really doesn’t matter whether it is published in 1998 or 2010.
    See http://www.problogger.net/archives/2008/07/22/dates-on-blogs/ for some more discussion on the topic.

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  • JP

    Cannot agree more. I hate hate hate hate undated works. It’s totally about trying to lure people into reading an article they wouldn’t care about if they knew when it was written.

    @charlotte There is no valid reason. If you feel your article is “timeless” then add a blurb at the beginning with your rationale for this.

  • Dan

    It is agreed upon.

    Undated articles ought to be purged with hellfire along with articles that are carved up into 9 pages so some retard can get more adsense exposure.

  • http://ritter.vg Tom

    I didn’t put a date on my articles because I considered them to be timeless. Not in the sense that they’re classics, but because there are (usually) no external factors that are relevant to what I wrote. If it was about a particular quirk in a version, I would note the version.

    But since it bothers you so much, I am going through my (dated) blog entries and put dates on the corresponding article pages right now. In gratitude, I only ask that you pick one of them and read it.

  • http://messytechy.com Alex

    Exactly! If you’re reading any kind of tech article, the absence of a date makes the article generally useless.
    A “wall of shame” sounds like a great idea.

  • Mag

    Thank You 2/18/2010

  • mc2w

    I agree. To me it also has several more negative factors:

    If it’s a “hot story”, who’s to say you wrote it first? Nobody has any idea when you wrote yours, so you’re almost always excluded as the possible first source.

    If the information is outdated, you may end up leading people into worse situations (due to outdated UI structures and what-not).

    I totally agree with your idea here.

  • Chris C.

    I strongly agree with the author of this article. This is a fundamental principle that anyone learns to do as soon as they pick up a pen and learn to write. To omit it is absurd and flies in the face of common sense, besides, it’s basic courtesy for your readers.

    And yes, I checked that your comments ARE dated, even if I believe that the subject of this article is so fundamental that it should be considered timeless ;)