PSA: “previous” and “next” links in archives

(PSA, for the readers not familiar with this bit of US culture, stands for Public Service Announcement; these are similar to ads, except that instead of promoting a product, they serve to forward a message of public interest, like “Don’t do drugs”)

On the web, many archives can be browsed chronologically; I’m not just thinking of blogs here, many web pages can be thought of as being in an archive, webmail for instance. And more often than not, the links to do so are labelled “previous (item)” and “next (item)”. And here lies the rub: “previous” will typically take you to a newer item, and “next” to an older item. Wait a minute…

Oh, I certainly see the faulty logic that leads there. It started innocently enough, with “next”, denoting a link to the next page to go to see more items in the archive, but then “previous” came in for the link to go in the opposite direction; and now many sites are content with this.

But there are much better choices. For instance one is “earlier” and “later”; “earlier” has the advantage of being relatively positive (as compared to, say, “older”), which is good to encourage the reader, who has reached the bottom of the front page, to dig deeper in your archives.

Now why am I calling attention to this? Because I am guilty of this myself. Indeed, when I posted “Raising the Level of Discourse” my blog gained a second page. I immediately went to check it and saw that it indeed features “Previous Page”. The technical reason is that it seems to be the default for the theme I’m using, but that’s hardly an excuse; even if I can’t modify the theme myself (I’m on WordPress.com and have to use the available themes; I can customize one or two things and add CSS, but that’s it), I have to own up to my choices: a good craftsman does not blame his tools, but if they are not up to the task, either fixes them himself, gets them fixed, or changes tools altogether. However, this takes time, which I haven’t taken for this yet, so in the meantime it is still “Previous Page”; I apologize for the inconvenience.

The issue was resolved when I switched to a different theme in the beginning of 2012; I’m keeping this post for historical interest. – May 22, 2012