You know who you are. You are my friends, colleagues, and clients. You’re really smart about how to use computers and stuff. You’re great people.
But I just can’t stand it when you put dates in your file names. Whether you put dashes between the numbers, use two- or four-digit years, I still can’t stand it.
There are sooo many problems with this technique. Let me count the ways:
- It’s hard to read. (You have to think just a little bit to interpret the date, don’t you? If you have multiple files named in this manner right next to each other, you have to think a little bit to figure out which is the newer version)
- It doesn’t sort correctly when you sort by filename over the December-January divide (Unless you begin the filename with the year, which of course just makes it even harder to read — for example, what date is 06-05-07?)
- What if you make two versions on the same day? (Yes, you have to start appending “_v1” and such. Yuck!)
- Conversely, what if you don’t want to generate a whole new version of a file, but you want to work on it on multiple days? (You have to remember to change the filename to the new date you save it, otherwise you end up with a file with one date in the filename and another in the date metadata.)
- It doesn’t work well internationally. (Is 02032007 in February or March?)
Hard-coding the date into the filename field is the equivalent, in HTML terms, of using the font tag instead of the h2 tag for your article title. It’s semantic abuse.
What particularly annoys me about this is that files already have date metadata attached to them. This is true on Mac and Windows file systems. Yes there is the occasional problem where a file’s date metadata is lost, for example when uploading/downloading from a server or burning to a disk. But this is pretty rare these days, isn’t it?
The solution is simple: Just change the version number in the file name, and let the operating system handle the date part automatically. It’s really that simple. If you really must hard code the date because you’re afraid it will get altered in transit, just do so in the document itself, for example on the title page or in the footer.
Whatever your company’s version numbering syntax is, you simply append that number to the filename and increment it every time you save a new version. You won’t miss your old date-in-the-title format at all; you can still sort by date just fine anytime you want, no problem.
I mean, isn’t this listing a lot easier to read than the one above? To me it’s like night and day.
- It’s easy to parse when browsing a long directory of files.
- It sorts perfectly both by name and by date.
- There is no confusion about the date — it’s right there in whatever format your OS is configured to display.
- It allows multiple versions on the same day (or the same version on multiple days)
- It’s easy to talk about whenever you’re in awkward phone conversations about finding the right version of a file.
Basically it’s just short and sweet, which is the best reason of all.