Content About Slices of Time
Calendars can rule our lives. Digital ones often seem to determine our choices, instead of reflecting our choices. Yet when structured appropriately, dates can be used in creative ways to enhance value for audiences. To do this requires us to think more conceptually about slices of time.
Dates are an important data format that can be linked to other kinds of data to deliver valuable information to audiences. Dates structure personal experiences, but should not define them. While some dates are certain and non-negotiable, such as a birthday or an anniversary, many dates are contingent on various factors such as cost or convenience. People often don’t want the date to be the main criteria driving what they seek. They would rather prioritize other considerations, and see what dates are best fits.
Content designers often expect people to think in terms of precise calendar dates. A long-established paradigm involves making people specify date ranges. If users don’t like the answer, they are forced to enter a new search with an alternate set of dates. Even visual approaches, involving graphic displays of results and sliders, still require from the user unnecessary interaction. Too often, the user is left to query a database, and fiddle with specifying beginning and ending dates, to discover what’s best or most notable. Computers should be doing more of that discovery work.
People want to know about blips, cycles and trends that can be hard to notice. They don’t want to do lots of work to uncover these insights. Computers generate time-related content by asking users questions about specific dates. Yet people really want answers, not the ability to specify queries. An over-focus on question-asking capabilities can become burdensome. A better experience would provide answers to common questions involving date ranges, without demanding that people enter specific dates when it is not necessary. How can one offer useful answers without audiences asking? How can we stop making people hunt for answers? One key is to frame answers in terms of chunks of time.
Three Kinds of Time-Slicing
Date ranges can be thought of as chunks or slices of time. Three kinds of time slices provide data:
Each orientation surfaces different information of value to audiences. Different forms of date ranges answer different questions. Slices define the characteristics of an event for a person: how long the event is, when it starts and stops, and the advantages or disadvantages of a given period. We can offer different kinds of answers using different time-slicing patterns.