Saturday, December 15, 2007
What does 04/05/01 mean to you?
Let’s make it easy: is that date in 2001 or 2004?
And if I write it like 04/05/2001, is it really better? are we in April or May?
And the answer is…
If you are from North America and a handful other countries 04/05/01 would mean 5th of April 2001.
If you’re in Asia or some eastern countries, if could be 1st of May 2004.
For the rest of the world, it would look like 4th of May 2001.
We cannot ignore any longer the importance of writing dates in a format that is understandable by everyone.
Still too often, web sites -even big companies- with a global audience state dates in a format that is probably obvious where they live but not consistently so to everyone else.
Developers are sometimes guilty of this sin, as can be seen in the format chosen to specify dates in Microsoft Access SQL, which requires that hard-coded dates be formatted in the US rather than the more neutral ISO8601 format.
I wonder how many bugs that little egocentric feature caused in business applications that where developed by foreign coders…
I know it also happened to me at least once…
The worst thing is that when you write 04/05/06, you may very well have thought about the rest of the world and meant DD/MM/YY; alas, unless the context grants us some clarification or the actual date is unequivocal, there is sometimes no way for a lot of us to know for sure what you really meant.
We should ban the use of the short date format in communications that may be read by more than 3 people, in today’s world, that’s pretty much all communication.
Instead a simple format such as 05MAY2006 is clear an unequivocal: it’s easy to read and understand, regardless of where you live.
You’re free to add spaces, dashes, dots, comas or slashes to it if you want, you can use 2006MAY05 if you prefer or even MAY05,2006, whatever pleases you: it still remains readable.
The rule is simple:write the year in full and never write the month as a two-digit number, that’s reserved for the day
The point is that you, me and the rest of the world can read it and understand exactly what was meant; it’s an easy problem to solve.
Surely that means something to you?