Earth Chronicle Standards
Despite our best efforts to be clear, authoritative, and in most cases non-controversial, there are some issues you can't escape. We certainly will never shrink from including information on harsh topics like, Nazism, slavery, etc. With all these incredibly hot-button issues to choose from it may seem ironic that the first controversial position we have to take is on the format of dates. There are many local formats throughout the world, and on many issues it is our intention to support multi-lingual and multi-cultural settings as thoroughly as possible. We believe that variety makes for stronger ideas, better education, and superior experience. Supporting diverse cultures and languages is a key priority of Earth Chronicle, and we are always looking for new ways to reach for those goals. However, date format is something that is likely to converge, and having one format is in fact a critical communication tool for everyone, around the world in general and on Earth Chronicle specifically.
So the question becomes, what format should you use? There are two main formats in widespread use across the internet today. The US convention is the most common; it lists Month Day, Year (Thus, Earth Chronicle's birthday is April 6, 2005 or 04/06/05). Alternatively, the European convention has the advantage that it is more logical (running from the shortest unit of time to the longest), it lists Day Month Year (Thus, 6 April 2005 or 06/04/05). The European standard is also the format used by the MLA style manual, which is the basis of proofreading guidelines. So which have we used?
*sigh* Neither. These date conventions predate computers, and we believe that they are ultimately on the way out. The number one thing you generally want to do with dates (and that it's nice to have a computer do for you) is to sort them, usually in chronological order. While you can write fancy algorithms to cope with the US and European standards, every computer knows how to alphabetize and will naturally do so. Therefore, our format runs from longest unit of time to the shortest, so that dates (including times) sort alphabetically in proper chronological order. ie Year Month Day. Thus, our birthday is 2005/04/06 (April 6th). We are among a small but growing group that adopting the Alphabetical convention because it is so much easier to use in the computer age. MySQL, for example uses this convention; the backup files we create for our database are named "Backup 20091120 1244.sql" where 20091120, stands for 2009, November 20th.
It has been pointed out to us that the same ordering is also standardized in ISO 8601.
AD vs. AH vs. CE (or... Why we don't use the Common Era)
For those of you familiar with the Common Era notation, you may or may not be happy to see that we don’t use it. First and foremost a notation system should be a standard that everyone agrees on; it's valuable because it facilitates communication and understanding. The Common Era notation hasn't done a good job of catching on, and we don't think it will survive. Second and more philosophically damning, the Common Era was created by people uncomfortable with the religious connotation of the BC (Before Christ) / AD (Anno Domini “Year of the Lord”) notation developed by early Christians. However, it's inventors tried to make conversion "easy" by preserving the traditionally accepted date of Christ's birth as the turning point in history. So... why were we supposed to go through all this trouble again??
A standard should be widely used and understood, therefore the only serious competition for the Christian notation using BC / AD is the Muslim calendar which recognizes Mohammad's flight from Mecca as year 1 AH (622 AD in the Christian notation). While the Muslim calendar does not have the same global reach as the Christian calendar, that is not a critical failing. Our date format Year Month Day, etc. is not the #1 most popular standard. However, this is a history website. The amount of research currently being done which uses the Christian notation dwarfs that being done in all other notations combined. The amount of information already available makes even more lopsided use of the Christian notation. We welcome articles discussing the cultural implications of global and regional colonialism for all cultures and at all periods of history. However, the point of a standard is to be standardized and universal; and the Christian notation best meets those criteria both in current usage as well as in the massive body of already existing research. Therefore, Earth Chronicle uses it site wide to allow users to most accurately and easily communicate.
ECAN Subject Codes (or Why the world does, in fact, need another library system)
Library classification systems are standards. They are functional if they are widely used by many people. By those criteria there are only two possible classification systems that we might use. First, there are the Dewey Decimal codes (technically, the Dewey Decimal Classification [DDC]) you may have learned in school or at your local library. Then when you went to college, you may have been subjected to the Library of Congress (LC) call numbers. The LC system was inappropriate because it is specialized. It was meant to work for the Library of Congress and no one ever anticipated other libraries might try to use it for their collections. The DDC is much more widepsread. However, like the LC it's quite difficult to use. The codes used have no obvious connection to the subjects they stand for. For example, in the LC system, encyclopedias are coded, AE, while dictionaries are coded, AG. In the DDC, Hans Christian Anderson is filed under 398 for fairy tales even though his works are fiction and shouldn't be classified with non-fiction at all; books on the history of Europe are filed under 940. If you haven't studied the system, there's no way to tell what it means. Nevertheless, the DDC is widely embraced and many people have had to cope with it's challenges. It works for libraries around the world. It is the standard, so that is most logically our preferred system.
So why, oh why, Oh Why are we using a completely new classification here!?
Dewey call numbers are the obvious choice to use at Earth Chronicle... so why didn't we? It's a good question that has a shocking answer. The Dewey Decimal Classification is copyrighted. That's right. This is one of the poster children for what is horribly wrong with the international copyright system. A brilliant man who was born in the 1800s and dedicated his life to libraries and the spread of information, Melville Dewey, created the world's most important classification scheme.
And you will be sued if you try to use it.
Everything on Earth Chronicle is public domain. This is not a matter of pride, though we are proud of it. It is perhaps our most important policy which allows all our visitors to know that they can actually use any text, images, HTML, etc., without having to ask someone's permission. Does it make sense to tell you to use anything Except our classification system? Obviously not. Who would even think to check that it was copyrighted? We didn't. We were looking for a detailed explanation of the DDC during implementation, only to run across the OCLC homepage trumpeting that any website must first apply to them for permission to use it. (The OCLC is one of the most important international library organizations.) A quick search turned up a number of lawsuits filed by the OCLC (which were all settled amicably) that proved that OCLC aggressively defends its right to license the DDC.
While there is clearly no problem with us filing for the right to use it, anyone copying our material would be at risk of a lawsuit. That's not the kind of website we want to create. So we're stuck creating our own system. *grumble* *grumble*
The Earth Chronicle Alpha-Numeric (ECAN) Subject Code is our solution. It is an Alpha-numeric code which means it uses both letters and numbers. To facilitate ease of use, we reject both the LC and DDC practice of using codes that are disconnected from the topic. If someone unfamiliar with the system has a shot at understanding what it means, why not at least make the attempt? Especially since ECAN is not a widely used standard at this time, as much as possible we try to have everything clearly labeled so that first time users have no difficulty using it. And it is Public Domain, like everything else here. So if you need it or want to use if for your website, GREAT! It's yours! Do what you need to do. Adapt it all you want, though if you do too good a job, we very well might want to borrow your changes. :)
Note: I'm hoping this will work like the w3.org's specification for HTML, as I understand it. You can add to and develop ECAN on your own, make changes, tweak it so that it fits your needs. However, everyone agrees it would be nice if ten years from now we can all still understand one another's systems. So if as you adapt ECAN for your own use, let us know what your changes and ideas are. We'll keep a master specification for the ECAN classification that everyone can reference. New changes will periodically be included or updated and obsolete portions will be removed. It is our intention that the master spec will serve as a basis to keep us all in the same ballpark.
Didn't find what you were looking for? We also recommend checking out our Reader's Guide to Earth Chronicle, for information about the website including some handy tips. You can also contact us, if you need help with something or have a question that we haven't covered.