Keep dating your blog posts; it adds important context2011-12-08
The tweet that crossed my stream the other day expressed outrage. I followed the link and was pretty outraged myself, and said so in my own tweet. It didn’t take long before someone pointed out that the post was from 2006.
I have to admit I didn’t look at the date on the post. The assumption that if somebody else tweeted it, they had already assessed its timeliness is actually fairly common. NPR’s “On the Media” reported a few months back about a story that was widely covered by the mainstream press even though it wasn’t true. The news outlet that first reported the story had done a shoddy job of verifying the facts, but that subsequently covered the story simply assumed that the first publication had done its job.
So I sent out a correction, noting that the story was old. But what if that date hadn’t been on the post at all?
Several people have suggested that bloggers should not include dates on their posts. In June, Jim Connolly reported on an experiment in which he removed dates from posts on his blog for a month. As a result, he got more shares, more comments and lower bounce rates. As a result, Connolly has decided to stick with date-free posts on his “Internet Marketing Jam” blog. (I was able to figure out when he posted the item based on the dates attached to comments.) If the information in the post is date-sensitive, he adds, he’ll include the date in the copy.
I have no idea when Don Crowther wrote his post, Why NOT To Date Your Blog Posts; even the comments are date-free. Crowther suggests that an older date biases people against reading what you’ve written, so he offers a five-minute video on how to drop the date feature from WordPress blogs.
Crowther offers a similar caveat to Connolly’s, suggesting dates are fine if “you’re an extremely cutting edge blogger on highly time-sensitive issues.” But it’s the judgment about what’s time-sensitive that worries me. The post I tweeted was about a video game hitting store shelves that featured bigoted content so objectionable that it went beyond the pale even for me (and I like offensive entertainment; South Park and Family Guy are regular diversions for me).
In addition to tweeting my distaste for this game, I also sent a message to GameStop expressing my dismay that they would carry such a game. Of course, they’re not. Nobody is. The game is nearly six years old and long gone. But when discussing the content of a game, the blogger might not have thought that this was time-sensitive. Because the post was dated, I quickly learned about my error and set the record straight. Without it, the objections may well have spread, putting retailers on the defensive for something that hasn’t been a story for half a decade.
When I’m searching for information to inform my writing, my consulting and my presentations, I’m often looking for trends and analysis. Without a date, I wouldn’t now if those trends were from last week or 2002. Without dates, the credibility and validity of every post I see is suspect.
As the calls for removing dates from posts increase, I’ll stand firmly on the side of keeping them there. Yes, removing them may get more people to share the posts, but how many of those would never have happened if the date had shown the post was no longer relevant or accurate? Getting people to share outdated information without knowing it is hardly a noble tactic.
Dates provide important context to posts. Blogs, after all, are generally updated with some frequency in reverse chronological order. Finding one from four years ago that looks like it could have been written yesterday can cause confusion and lead readers to cite information that is no longer accurate.
Have you stopped dating your posts? What’s your rationale? If you thought about it and decided to retain the dates, what was the basis of your decision?