Roy Tang

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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Date Your Work

Part the first: I recently read/replied to a twitter thread by Patrick McKenzie:

Quoted patio11's tweet:
A disturbing large percentage of citations of some of my best work say “Written in 2012 but still relevant”, which a) is a direct artifact of the blogging form factor, b) is an unforced error, and c) I should just fix forever when I achieve activation energy.

He continues with a short Twitter thread (click through for more), asserting that having the date on the post front-and-center is a problem because even though the article content is almost always relevant, people will tend to judge it based on the fact that it’s more than a decade old. He ends the thread with:

Quoted patio11's tweet:
Don’t date your work!

Now, I enjoy Patrick’s writing a lot; he has consistently written a lot of good, evergreen articles that would be helpful regardless of whether they were a decade old or not. Just browse through his Greatest Hits page for some examples.

That being said, it’s a hard disagree for me on this particular point. Aside from saying that people who judge your posts’ relevance by how old they are might not be the sort of high-quality audience one would prefer, I think the date of publication remains contextually an important part of the context of an article, regardless of whether the advice therein remains forever relevant. It is sage advice that one should prefer writing things that do not depreciate with time, but Patrick may be the exception rather than the norm here, in that many of his essays remain of interest even a decade later. But for most of the content of the internet, I’d still prefer having dates clearly visible for context.

Slight tangent: Just last week, while watching John Oliver episodes on Youtube and was annoyed how all the recommended videos on the sidebar don’t show the dates. They’re not all from last week!!

Slight tangent to the tangent: I’ve never heard patio11 speak, so in my head, he kind of sounds like John Oliver, although I suspect he’s not British.

Anyway, it’s possible that the problem isn’t the prominent display of dates, but rather the publication of “evergreen content” under the “blogging form factor” as it were, since that format necessarily has dates as an important context indictaor. Which brings me to my next point.

Part the second: I shared this article recently: The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral. The TLDR is that modern publishing paradigms typically revolve around a “Stream” metaphor, i.e. social media timelines, chronological blog posts, etc, but we can also consider as an alternative a “Garden” metaphor, which is less date-centric but more wiki-like and focused on how ideas interrelate. The article is more about a federated wiki, but that’s my general takeaway.

I’ve been thinking about something like this recently with regards to my own writing. I’ve mentioned before that my writing on this site “consists of thoughts-in-the-moment, a snapshot of where my thinking is at that time, to be built upon and to be evolved later on”. But I’ve also been thinking that there might be room for a more permanent or maybe wiki-style of page that consolidates these moving parts into a coherent state. This is kind of similar to the “Garden” metaphor mentioned above. But I suppose I have to ruminate a bit more on what that might look like and what kind of content might appear there.

Looping back to part the first: I guess patio11’s more evergreen content belongs more in a “Garden”-like arrangement, rather than the “blogging form factor” he has been using for a while now. I like that he put together that “Greatest Hits” page. One thing I do when I find a new personal blog to follow is to browse around the last few posts to see what kind of content is generally there, but the most recent items aren’t always representative of why you’d like to follow a blog. So a page like that “Greatest Hits” one serves as a nice feature to help new readers get a sense of what sort of things to expect, independently of the date “Stream”. This was also the rationale as to why I added the “Featured Posts” link in the sidebar. during the most recent redesign. (Although I still have to review more of this blog’s 18ish year history to add posts to that section!)

In conclusion: put dates on your posts! But maybe also have an alternative way to browse them isn’t date-sensitive.

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