A number of major news organizations' sites around the world have latched onto a peculiar trend: Displaying the current time in Baghdad.
- Tribune-owned newspapers: Los Angeles Times, Orlando Sentinel, Allentown Morning Call (These sites share content, and thus most of them offer the same Baghdad clock)
- nbc-2.com in southwest Florida
- news.com.au, Australia
- New York Times
I won't comment on the usefulness of such a feature (I can see both arguments), but I will comment on the several incorrect techniques many sites have been using to display Baghdad time.
Problem #1: Relying on users' computers to provide accurate time
Pretty cool, eh? I can practically see the men in suits patting themselves on the back, saying, "Man, this is great. We're really taking advantage of the medium."
Except...no. The clock may add a certain gee-whiz factor, but for many users, the information is inaccurate. The reason: It grabs the current time from your computer's operating system and calculates the time in Baghdad by adding (in the Times' case) 4 hours.
That means, if you set your system's clock to 8 a.m., latimes.com will dutifully report it's noon in Baghdad. And if you set it to noon, the clock will read "4 p.m." It's kind of fun to play with, once you figure it out.
How many users' system clocks are inaccurate? I don't know. Is Baghdad time critical information? No. But it's still a possible inaccuracy, and news organizations should strive to weed out inaccuracy (as the Los Angeles Times itself has done recently in another arena).
It comes down to this: As I said in a similar article last August, relying on client-side information to produce content that aims to be journalistically sound is a bad idea. Plus, relying on user-provided data on the Web is insecure and just plain naïve, in general. That's one of the hallmark rules of Web programming.
noscript tag: an adequate replacement.
Problem #3: Incorrect information, period
Take a look at the Orlando Sentinel's Baghdad clock (right side of page), the nbc-2.com clock and the aforementioned latimes.com clock. At time of this writing, Orlando is reporting it's 8:20 a.m. in Baghdad. NBC2 is reporting it's 7:20. Los Angeles is reporting it's 9:20.
How could that be? I don't know. Are those sites each assuming I live within their respective time zones, and calculating Baghdad time relatively, based on that incorrect assumption? Possibly. If you can figure it out, please share.
The best practice