Trouble with “previous” and “next”

WordPress does it, and so does Yahoo. So I’ll have to adjust. It’s counterintuitive for me, though, and I think the people who live in this time warp are not using a Mac, and live in a non-time-based world.

from www.ephemeris.comHere’s what I’m talking about: When I’m moving through posts and emails, I think of “next” as those more recent than the page I am on, and “previous” as those earlier in time. So, for me, my next email will come soon, and my previous post was yesterday’s.

Not so with WordPress and Yahoo. If I have moved backwards into March’s posts, clicking on “next” moves me further back, into Februrary’s posts. Clicking on “previous” means the previous page, pushing me into the future, into April’s posts.

The reason, I suppose, is that “next” and “previous” don’t refer to the time the posts were written, but which page they are on. To me, this means that the coders, or IT developers are not thinking of how their audience uses the software, but how they see it. A programmer sees information on pages, and the placement of the pages themselves are important. Most users, I would guess, see the date and time they wrote it as important, or perhaps the content, which doesn’t come up as an issue at all.

If you are looking for a post, or a check, or a file on your computer, and you can’t use content as a locater, you will use the date you wrote it, often in conjunction with other dates or events.

“Let’s see, I wrote that right after I saw Atonement, but before we painted the kitchen,” is a time statement. I can’t imagine someone saying, “I stored that on the third page back from the beginning,” because that isn’t a set place. The more posts you add, the farther back the posts slip.

It’s an information design question, and the user-friendly ones will stay time-based. We can use the arrows to move to the last page seen, but “previous” should retain the meaning it’s always had–“before this moment in time.”

Image: book, “The Caldendar” from

–Quinn McDonald is a writer and certified creativity coach. See her work at (c) 2008, Quinn McDonald All rights reserved.