What dateformat should you use?

15 June 2011

Programmers and other computer oriented people tend to use dateformats that aren't as clear or logic as we (the nerds) would think.

First of all there are many dateformats used around the world. Since a website is likely to be viewed by people from various countries a notation like 01/02/03 can cause a lot of confusion. Is it the 1th of February 2003, as i would think as a Dutchman, but an american could possibly think it's the 2nd of January 2003. And i bet there are people around that might assume it says the 3rd of February 2001...

By writing out the year in the notation the confusion is limited to day and month errors. Since 2003 can't be a month or day, the 01/02 can now only stand for two thing. The first of February or the second of January.

If a design or existing application allows a lot of space used by dates, I recommend using names for months, and if possible even add the day of the week. Sunday 2 February 2003 leaves nothing to change. If you build your application in a way it uses local language it is impossible to have any confusion.

If the space is limited, in a crowded table, for example, you should think as the end-user and strip out unnecessary information. In a system i'm designing right now it is important for the end user to know on what day in the week an event occured, so i use the full notation where possible and for short notation I use "sun. 2 Feb. 2003" and on places where the day of the week doesn't matter, I use "2 Feb. 2003".

Another downside of using written out dates is that you can't exactly know how much space to set apart for the date to be displayed. 2 may 2003 doesn't take up as much space as 31 January 2003, let alone some "weird" foreign languages wich might use even longer names for months...

Conclusion: use a dateformat that is as clear as possible. Sacrifice some precious and costly space to prevent errors by end users!
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