When you’re doing research on a topic, it’s vital to ensure your sources are up to date. If you’re writing an academic paper, dates of publication are often required in the citations.
The majority of the time, getting the date is easy: simply look on the site and find the published date to find how recent it was. Things get a little more complicated when there is no date listed on the webpage. When this happens, how do you know when a webpage was published?
In and Around the Page Itself
The first port of call when figuring out when a webpage was published is on and around the page itself. Most of the time, the publishing date of an article should be written alongside the author’s name just above the article. In rarer instances, this information could be below the article.
A less precise, but still useful, way of estimating the publishing date of a webpage is to look at the comments. When was the first comment written? This will give you an idea of how dated an article is and therefore how relevant the information is that is contained therein.
Finally, some blogs and sites automatically format the article date into the page URL, so sneak a peak at the address bar to see if you can find any clues.
One final note: look to see if the page has an update date. An older article might say it was originally published five years ago, but at the end of the post, you may find a second date saying the post was updated six months ago.
View the Source Code
You can use your browser to view the source code behind most websites. Often, you can tell when a webpage was published by searching the code.
Start by going to the website or article you need the date for. You need to be on the exact page and not just the website’s homepage.
Right-click on this webpage, and a list of options will appear in a pop-up menu. Select “View Page Source” from the list.
The layout of the webpage will be rearranged, and a panel will open to the right revealing the source code for the page. This is the HTML code that is executed by the browser in order to display the version of the page that appears on your screen. Every detail regarding the creation and layout of the webpage is mentioned in the source code if you know what to look for.
4. After opening the page source, use the shortcut Ctrl + F to open the search bar.
5. In the bar, type “Publish” to highlight every line in the source code where the word is used.
All you have to do is read the full line wherever the word “Publish” is included. One of these lines will carry the date of creation of the webpage.
Also, you can search for “Modified” and follow the same steps as above to discover the dates the article was modified.
Often, a Google search for your website will show when a webpage was published. Open the webpage with the unknown publish date. Copy the URL into a Google search box and search. While there’s a much more complicated way to do this, the easier method is to select a time range to start showing dates beside each result in the search list.
Sometimes the last published date of a webpage shows automatically in Google, such as with this search seen below.
If you don’t see a date, click Tools just above the search results. Open the Anytime drop-down box and select “Custom Range.”
Enter a wide range. Usually, going back approximately 10 to 15 years ensures even old webpages show a date. Otherwise, if the webpage is older than the range you enter, the result will disappear from the search results list. If you know a page was published within a set period, you only need to go back that far.
Using the Wayback Machine
The Wayback Machine is a site that keeps tabs on how websites progress over the years. If a webpage isn’t too popular, it may not appear in the Wayback Machine; however, if you do get a hit from the machine, you can get a rough estimate of when the webpage was published.
First, head to the Wayback Machine, then enter the address of the site you want to check into the address bar on the site.
When you click “Browse History,” the Wayback Machine will do a check to see if it can find logs of the website. If it does, it’ll display a calendar showing all the snapshots it has collected. Find the earliest possible date for a rough estimate of when the page was published; at the very least, you’ll know the page at least existed during that period!
Using Carbon Dating the Web
Carbon Dating the Web is a handy tool that gets a rough estimate of when the webpage was created. When its developers tested it on pages where the creation date was known, it had a 75 percent success rate when guessing when it was made. It’s very easy to use: simply plug the webpage’s URL into the box and click “Carbon Date!”
The site will then give you an estimated creation date for the site you provided.
You can even download the Carbon Dating the Web application for local use, should you find yourself doing a lot of searches. Just click the link on the site to download.
Regardless of whether you’re doing research for a paper or just want to know when a webpage was published, it can be frustrating when the webmaster doesn’t add a date to their articles. Thankfully, there are ways to get a rough idea of when a page went up. It may not be precise 100 percent of the time, but it can give you a good idea how topical the article is.
Which method do you like the best? Do you know of a method that we missed? Let us know below.
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