Monday, April 13th, 2009

Getting to the depths of “time”

Category: HTML

PPK has a nice detailed posting on the HTML 5 time tag and he asserts:

The HTML 5 spec introduces the

It goes into great depth to discuss the nuance of dates and it makes you really reflect on how complex this can be.

Who needs machine readable dates? As far as I can see there are two target audiences for this operation. The first is obviously social applications that have to work with dates, and where it can be useful to compare dates of two different events. An app must be able to see if two events fall on the same day and warn you if they do.

However, as a target audience social applications are immediately followed by historians (or historical, chronological applications). After all, historians are (dare I say it?) historically the most prolific users of dates, until they were upstaged by social applications.

This raises the question whether the <time> element should be tailored for historical use at all. When I started writing this entry I was convinced that it should.

In keeping with the definition of its purpose I the see the <time> element as a tool for an Internet-wide chronological search-and-compare system. Such a system will be a boon to historians, who would be allowed to quickly and easily look up events that happened around the same time as the event they’re writing about.

In history, just as in other academic disciplines, serendipitous discoveries are the meat of exciting new theories. A history-compliant use of the <time> element that allows automatic search and compare would broaden the horizons of historians.

However, now that I’ve reviewed some of the more common problems that have to be solved in order to decrease potential harm, I’m starting to doubt whether the <time> element can easily be made to fit history.

Right now, though, the specification is a vague compromise that doesn’t make the <time> element useful for historical research, but still allows it to be used historically.

I feel this ambiguity should be removed. I feel that the specification should clearly state whether the <time> element is meant for historical use or not. The current vague, implied “No” should be changed to a clear answer. I prefer Yes, but I can live with No.

Posted by Dion Almaer at 6:34 am
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Now that is an interesting thing to think about, also how would one go about styling it? You could argue that the content should be standardised as “a date is a date”, and how that date is rendered is down to CSS. That could solve a LOT of problems rendering time/dates across the web…

Comment by oopstudios — April 13, 2009

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