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What day is it?

2010 Printable Calendar: Big Numbers Designphoto © 2009 redstamp.com | more info (via: Wylio)
While browsing various sources of technical documentation online recently, I was amused to see some identical email messages from a particular tech community being archived and presented in several different ways by different web sites around the world. Some said the email came on 3/2, some said 2/3, and some had even other ways of expressing the message thread time stamps.

Depending on where in the world you might have been born, raised or gone to college, your idea of what constitutes a valid date stamp may vary. Is 3/2 the same as March 2nd for you, or is that really Februrary 3rd? If the community discussing a thing is truly international, this stuff can get really confusing.

Standards to the rescue!

In technology work, I am often exposed to standard measurements and procedures. Often these tech standards are coming from NIST or the ISO or comparable organizations. The dry standards these agencies produce aren't always too helpful to laypersons, but I know of one that is.

2011-03-02. That format is the international (ISO) standard for a date stamp.

How is that useful? Well, first off it is usually clear to everyone, no matter what continent they are from, that this string indicates March the 2nd of 2011, without ambiguity. So if your staff or patrons are international, it may be helpful for them if your documentation or signage uses this form.

But wait, that's not all! Tell them what they've won, Don Pardo!

It slices, it dices, it sorts your pesky files! Have you ever seen this kind of mess in some computer file folder?

Board Meeting 1/7/11.doc
Board Meeting 11/8/10.doc
Board Meeting 12/6/10.doc
Board Meeting 2/3/11.doc

The documents from the end of last year interfile with the start of this year, because your computer doesn't see those as numbers, it sees them as names. And it only gets worse the more years you have in one folder. If you desire that a name-based sorting view also align itself as a date-based sort, then you want the ISO standard in your document naming convention.

Board Meeting 2010-11-08.doc
Board Meeting 2010-12-06.doc
Board Meeting 2011-01-07.doc
Board Meeting 2011-02-03.doc

Yay, standards! Just remember that for the full benefit of this, you need to pad single digit numbers with a leading zero so that all day and month fields are consistently two-digits wide.


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Does this format work just as well? 2010.11.08

Shelly, yes it does, in a way that really expresses the beauty of standards. Basically, as long as you do what you describe consistently, creating your own standard, you'll reap the benefit of being consistent. But you won't be using the ISO standard, you'd be using a proprietary standard of your own design.

And as long as that affects only you and your files, that is just fine. For other technologies in a wider, Internet-connects-everything-to-everything world, using the internationally agreed standard would definitely be preferred to a proprietary one that differs even slightly.

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