All in the <head>

– Ponderings & code by Drew McLellan –

– Live from The Internets since 2003 –


Everyone Has a Clock

10 April 2005

If you build web sites for a living, you will no doubt have come across a client who, despite lack of any logic or reason, wants either the time or date displayed on their site. Unlike a vast number of other common web design sins, I have to say that this is not one I’ve ever fallen foul of (despite working on a number of sites that have already been cursed with the presence of the day and/or time before I inherited them).

Whilst there are a small number of cases where it makes sense to present the user with a timestamp (project management tools like Basecamp spring to mind), most of the time it’s an unnecessary waste of space. Most commonly used browsing platforms, including my S60 phone, have a clock built in. If I want to know the time or the date, it’s only a brief glance away. There’s no need to waste space on the page by reiterating the obvious.

Today I was at the Science Museum in London, and was interested to see their exhibition of computing through time. They’ve got some really great examples of computers we’ve not used for months and months. Amongst the most impressive, if only in terms of size, was the British built Pegasus valve computer they had on display. This thing is huge and practically prehistoric – dating from 1959 – which is nearly as old as a aunty. Its user interface consists of a panel of switches and two circular display devices that look like they may have once been installed inside a submarine.

But the best bit … well, I’ll let the photo speak for itself.

Everyone has a clock.

- Drew McLellan


  1. § Bill G: A clock or time on a webpage is a must.There is a reason that clients recommend it.They want users to
    know the time from it and what them to know that their website knows the time too.A lot of websites
    ranging back to the 1998’s have the clock on it.Its a good thing.Why do you find it had to put a clock on their page.Give them a clock i say haarr haar..
  2. § MH: Yes, and make sure it’s the server time, too…
  3. § Paul Carpenter: Bill, considering that most computers are perfectly capable of telling the time themselves, what is this reasoning you speak of?

    Drew, although it is rather pointless, it isn’t the greatest sin of web design and I can usualy put up with a clock.
  4. § Peter Mount: Paul. I have a sneaking suspicion that Bill was being “ever so slightly less than serious” (i.e. he was joking) about the clock

    I can see why a clock would be redundant (it’s already shown on the screen anyway) but there would be instances when it would be useful to know what time it is in another country
  5. § Cameron Adams: Isn’t that the launching console for a BV-239 nuclear warhead, and isn’t that therefore the doomsday clock!?

    And it’s only 115 minutes to midnight!
  6. § Charles Martin: In a few cases, it is nice to know what time it is on the server itself (i.e., web-based server management). However, the complexities of dealing with a clock (i.e., do you display your timezone or the user’s, do you display military time or AM/PM, should the clock constantly update or remain static until refresh, does the timezone used come from user defined settings or the browser information, etc.) make it so much easier to find a way of convincing the client it is not necessary.

    The only other place I could see a potential necessity is when the website is time-critical (i.e., an auction site where you need to know that the time shown for the auction ending is 5 minutes from the actual time shown on the server where the bidding is taking place).
  7. § Schultzy: Hah my new may 1st site has two clocks on it.
  8. § Philip Bragg: Great picture!

    Maybe the client is alluding to another web business that is time dependent in order to add a certain excitement to an otherwise dull page.

    The time is fast approaching, rapidly coming up to the hour of six o’clock.
  9. § Matt: I first thought this article was titled as “Everybody Has a Cock” .. and I’m like what??? Then I re-read it. :)
  10. § Stuart: ARRGGGGHHH!!

    Bloody clocks on websites! I HATE ‘em!!

    Business folks seem to think that they’re essential, even when I push their nose into the bottom-right hand corner of their PC screen whilst I scream obscenities at ‘em (well, OK, I don’t, but I’d LIKE to!)

    What I do now is suggest that they put their own time on the site… if they INSIST! At least there’s SOME point to that!
  11. § Lisa Giovanni: Ahaha! Funny picture ;)
  12. § dera: Posting the date when the page was last modified is a good thing.
  13. § Anonymous: Posting in a legendary thread!


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About Drew McLellan

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Drew McLellan (@drewm) has been hacking on the web since around 1996 following an unfortunate incident with a margarine tub. Since then he’s spread himself between both front- and back-end development projects, and now is Director and Senior Web Developer at in Maidenhead, UK (GEO: 51.5217, -0.7177). Prior to this, Drew was a Web Developer for Yahoo!, and before that primarily worked as a technical lead within design and branding agencies for clients such as Nissan, Goodyear Dunlop, Siemens/Bosch, Cadburys, ICI Dulux and Somewhere along the way, Drew managed to get himself embroiled with Dreamweaver and was made an early Macromedia Evangelist for that product. This lead to book deals, public appearances, fame, glory, and his eventual downfall.

Picking himself up again, Drew is now a strong advocate for best practises, and stood as Group Lead for The Web Standards Project 2006-08. He has had articles published by A List Apart, Adobe, and O’Reilly Media’s, mostly due to mistaken identity. Drew is a proponent of the lower-case semantic web, and is currently expending energies in the direction of the microformats movement, with particular interests in making parsers an off-the-shelf commodity and developing simple UI conventions. He writes here at all in the head and, with a little help from his friends, at 24 ways.