Yesterday my wife received an email “from” Government Gateway reminding her she has do something by a specific date, activate her enrolment.

Here’s the email.

My wife shows me the email.

“Why is the date shown like that?” she asks me. I say it’s a standard technical format, quite normal to show.

“Should I have to know how to read that?” my wife asks. “Why doesn’t it just say ‘by 7 June 2016’?”

My wife is, in the context of this email, registering to use HMRC’s online services because she is self employed. She’s a childminder. Not a programmer, a coder, an engineer, or anything else of that technical nature. Technical to her is knowing the ins and outs of education and safety and that.

I look a little closer at the email. There’s a comma in there that possibly shouldn’t be. What’s that tab doing on the second paragraph? Why is ‘Enrolment’ a proper noun? Why is Activation Pin that (rather than ‘activation PIN’)? Why can I not reply to this email?

But still, that date, stands out like a sore thumb. It can’t have been that hard to display it in a more user friendly format.

I posted a grab of the email on Twitter. “That’s a cracking user friendly date there, Government Gateway email.” I quip, feeling all self righteous.

It gets some likes and retweets from similar minded people. Then a few hours later I get this reply.

Whether the reply is tongue-in-cheek or not it stands out.

I think back to what my wife said. I look at the tweet.

If you can’t understand ISO8601-format timstamps, then, frankly, that’s your problem.

And then I read through the replies to that tweet.

The format in the email is a “standard date-time format”.

ISO-8601 or gtfo. #opslife”.

I wish that format was used more a lot more! Clear and unambiguous”.

I presumed the way the date was formatted might be an oversight. Or the formatting code has just broken. But then I think what if it was deliberate? What if the person (or people) who made and sent the email think this is “right”? After all, to some people, to some users this format is actually OK. It is, to some users, friendly. My bad in my tweet. And to some it may just be my wife’s problem that she doesn’t understand it.

But is it within the context of the email she received?


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