Removing Post & Comment Dates is a Terrible Idea

Removing Post & Comment Dates is a Terrible Idea

I recently read a post on Elegant Themes (aff link) that suggests you should remove the dates from your blog comments and “…Keep Your Discussion Fresh.” They proceed to show you multiple ways to remove dates from posts and comments. Don't do it.

Dates on blog posts are critical for signaling relevance and context to your reader. I can't count the number of times I've read a post I thought was relevant only to realize midway through (because the dates were scrubbed) that it was two or three years old and a pointless waste of time. Now, to be fair, some posts really are date-independent—the information is truly timeless and when it was posted is not important. But in cases like this, I would argue that this material should be reserved for an article section that is built on pages, not posts, and then dates can be removed without trouble.

As far as comments, it's also critical to know the dates, especially in those cases where comments are offering suggestions for alternative materials/software/ideas that are time sensitive. (Many posts I read and comment threads I follow are about X software for Y purposes.) You can save your reader a lot of wasted time and effort by signaling right up front that a comment, or entire thread, is too old to be relevant. And if that's the case, now you have a reason to write a new one!

This date-removal strategy is one that only serves the publisher and not the reader. If you really wish to help your reader, you'll aid them in every way possible. To that end, signaling relevance via clearly posted dates and references is critically important—it helps the reader place your ideas within a specific context. For blogs and publications that feature non-fiction and reviews and how-tos, this is even more important and helps readers quickly understand if they're in the right place at the right time.

While possibly less important for fiction and stories, keeping dates still allows for understanding where one is and reduces confusion in general which, in turn, creates a relaxed state of mind and more favorable perception of the work. It's really inspiring to see a story progress over time and understand how the author's style changes. This is hard to do when it all happened “right now” because dates are missing.

Having your time-sensitive material slowly become less relevant over time is a reality that comes with the blogging experience and it's better to accept that and keep posting new and better material rather than trying to hoodwink your reader into wasting time on old work that might not be relevant anymore.

I would argue that having your posts age out is actually a great thing. By looking at the old material that might be garnering more attention, you can know that the readers are interested, despite the date, and now have material for an excellent follow-up post that revisits the original subject and adds additional info and clarifications. You can then link to the old post and start new, current discussions, possibly on both the old and new posts. This can also boost the relevance of the old and new posts in Google's eyes.

I think there's too much focus on so-called “evergreen” material and the author/publisher's needs and not enough focus on remembering who we're writing for in the first place. Your reader is your number one, primary focus!

Instead of trying to pass old and busted off as the new hotness, go the extra mile and publish more and better work with all the dates and references in place so we can better understand the context. Your readers will love you for it and reward your efforts in kind.

As for me, when I see a blog that has hidden its dates, I immediately think the author is trying to scam me (and also thinks I'm an idiot who won't notice). And you can imagine how well that works as a first impression.

[All ideas and replies welcome.]

Boilerplate Instructions, Bane of Modern Software

Boilerplate Instructions, Bane of Modern Software

 

I bought a new theme to install for a client this week.

Normally, installing a theme is simple. Select theme, upload, install, done.

Unless the theme maker has decided to deviate from the standard protocols that we all know and love and which we have been happily following for years.

At that point all bets are off. Basically, the only choice now is to open their documentation and start reading their instructions line by line and following every micro-directive verbatim.

That is, assuming they have actually bothered to tell you what each little step is.

But no, in this case they just told me in generic terms to do what I had already done; the same thing that had already failed miserably.

“Go to the Appearances menu and upload your new theme.” they say.

Boilerplate instructions.

Fail.

Now what?

Oh, yeah, figure it out for myself!

Talk about lazy and thoughtless. Not a great combo!

They didn't even bother to test their own theme and discover that,

…Oh wait, we packaged it in such a way that the theme is named something completely different from what most people will expect and it's also buried in a series of subfolders along with another thing that's called a child theme and you're just supposed to know that you don't actually have to use the child theme, but if you do, you'll need to install that first and then…

WTF!?

Here's the opportunity…

Test your instructions exhaustively and triple-check your documentation!

Having clear, excellent instructions that actually work is just as important as having a great product.

Junk instructions could cause someone to mistake your product for junk since it's likely they'll fail to get it to work as intended.

And then they might just ask for a refund.

Aha, instructions just became as valuable as the product itself!

Funny how that works.

 

Photo by Seth Anderson – CC Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0

 

The Ultimate Writing Tool for Bloggers

The Ultimate Writing Tool for Bloggers

Scrivener Helps You Pull It All Together

Ever wondered how in blazes you capture, organize and store all your ideas for blog posts so you always have access to them and can quickly find them and start writing?

And secondarily, but perhaps even more importantly, do you pine for a program that works with you instead of fighting you every step of the way as you attempt the sometimes hideously challenging work of writing useful and interesting blog posts?

These questions have plagued me for many years.

In the beginning, and for a long time thereafter, I struggled to manage my ideas and my written words. I wrote ideas on scraps of paper, tried bookmarking links on Delicious to jog my memory and save reference material for later, created multiple text documents in TextEdit and stored these in folders, emailed myself ideas and partial drafts, and tried many far more arcane and useless methods to manage my written words.

Of course some might (somewhat rightfully) suggest that all this effort to find a way to write was just a manifestation of Resistance, but that’s a post for another day.

Throughout it all though, when it came time to actually bang out a post, I had a devil of a time finding all the various bits of digital and physical mnemonic rubbish I had created and set to whirling metaphorically and literally all around my life. In other words, I was frustrated before I even sat down to write because I knew it would be a royal pain to gather my wits and bits. And since it was frustrating, I would rarely end up writing at all.

6 Things I Had to Have

So to recap, my writing frustrations led me to want:

  1. Somewhere to save ideas so that I could easily find and categorize them
  2. Easy and smart management of drafts and revisions
  3. A way to quickly see my word count without undue effort
  4. Great tools—better stuff than the basics in WordPress or TextEdit (the equivalent of Notepad for Windows users) but a simple and easy interface
  5. Relief from the frustration and pain with the WordPress composition screen
  6. Having everything synchronize over the network so I could write online or offline and on whichever device I happened to be using at the moment

Enter Scrivener, the Answer to Every Sane Blogger’s Dreams

A couple years ago I found Scrivener and played with it and thought it was wonderful. But at the time I was blinded by other tools and just didn’t think of Scrivener as a blogging tool. My loss. About 6 months ago I re-discovered it and I can tell you that not only did it address all 6 of the aforementioned desires, it went way beyond that and taught me to be a more organized writer to boot.

Now I also use Scrivener to:

  1. Store PDFs, pictures, links and sites in my research bin
  2. Highlight keywords in my post so I can see SEO issues quickly
  3. Speak my text back to me—I love this! (yes you can do this in the OS X system, but this is also integrated so no need to run outside the app.)
  4. Sync with DropBox so yes, even though there isn’t a Scrivener app for iPad, you can use SimpleNote and DropBox and easily sync your work between your iPad and your desktop or notebook computer.

 

Why Writing Inside WordPress Sucks

Some bloggers have suggested that you should just save drafts on your server in WordPress and write inside the composition screen in WordPress. But honestly, that sucks for 2 reasons that I can think of now, and probably more reasons I’ll think of later.

  1. I have definitely had a browser lock up, or a server hiccup on ‘Save’ and lost all my work more than once.
  2. (As if 1 weren’t reason enough not to write in WordPress!) I can’t FIND anything quickly and easily when I’m looking for it.
  3. And 3 (oh look, I thought of another one!) I can’t stand writing in that little window—I’m forever dragging the right-hand corner downward and trying to move it around so that the line that I’m actually typing is right in front of me, etc.
  4. And another thing—I have to flip around among my bookmarks site, my text document filled with reminders, and more things I can’t remember at the moment while editing and writing.

The Pièce de Résistance

When you’re writing in Scrivener, you can set it to full screen and then suddenly, wonderfully, masterfully you are presented with a layout with type that is the size you’ve set, a darkened background to eliminate distraction and, the pièce de résistance, a constantly rising text line that stays at the same level as you type so you never have to scroll the page as you continue to fill the screen with brilliant tappity taps!

Here’s the thing—Scrivener is a marvelous piece of software and what’s neat is that even though it appeals to a crazy-wide variety of humans doing superbly disparate types of writing, it doesn’t feel kitchen-sinky or Microsoft-Wordy in the least. In fact, the tools stay out of your way and let you get to the business at hand (by which I mean writing in case you were thinking marmalade sifting or tarmac shaving).

Note that the latest version of Scrivener was recently released (version 2.0) and I'm even more pleased with it as I continue to learn its new features. Also, this program has traditionally been available on the Macintosh only, but they've also released a version for Windows.

There are so many other features I haven't touched upon, but I figure if you're even remotely curious, you can find out a lot more about Scrivener on their website.

I wrote this because I thought it was important to feature Scrivener as a blogging tool and get the attention of bloggers who might have overlooked it. Truly, if you’re blogging and not using Scrivener, you may well be caving in to Resistance more often than you know.

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