I've been worried about our ability to understand our present after it becomes the past tense. Much of what we read makes sense for a limited timeframe. Time moves on and our context shifts to new current events. So heading back to try to understand the past becomes much harder. The analogy with well commented code springs to mind, maybe my desire is for comments on history. We understand much less of the humour in Shakespeare for this reason. Even moving five years into the past and it can be difficult.
The problem can widen out from here and I'll extend briefly, my context is different to your one, so I want different events and people related together. My family, my work and my friends and interests differ, so unlike code there is not one set of reference points. This is a substantially harder problem, so with that excursion, back to public news content.
I've been researching a proposed microformat hEpoch to deal with time based reference in news stories and I'll admit I've given up. The problem has becomes one of exactitude, stories are written to be read not used as code. Adrian Holovaty has written about this before in his essay on data as journalism. Stories reference past events using terms like "nearby" or "last month", an example story from the BBC. This means that it is currently impossible to make a microformat for linking these stories together. Yet if the data was there then all we need to solve is the time base reference, probably via a bit of POSH.
A good example of this is timelines, they are the pretty, but doomed product I've watched being made many times over. People work hard producing a nice interface and sometimes even separate content from presentation. Then the timeline is often left abandoned once the project or programme finishes. A small bit of care in terms of tags and time formats for news stories and they could auto update.
Time and geographic accuracy need to be flexible, with time we can be somewhat flexible, the hCalendar microformat allows just a year for dstart, which means fixing to a single year is possible, but a approximate date eg 1760s is impossible. I'm not knocking the hCalendar spec, just pointing out a space for new developments. the microformat principles are well defined and do deliver a workable product.
Geographic data is hard too, the geo microformat is superb for specific realtively modern locations, where there is enough context to determine the latitude and longitude for the place. However we frequently need to reference a region, like a city, but cities change over time. The centre of London is now Charing Cross, but it has shifted over time.
This post is entitled "a lament", but really there is a call to action in the tail. We can make this better, all the data exists, it just never makes it out of the editorial process. Similarly when blogging we omit lots of the specifics, as they make it easier to read. eg 06/07/07, how do you unpack that date? It is impossible to know for sure which year, month or day it is.
If you are a publisher then think of the value of being able to automate connecting story threads and managing content by time and location. If you are a tool provider, MarsEdit and MT or WordPress, then offer support for microformats. The same for the more corporate tool providers. If you are an author then think of being able to return to the item of content in months or years and understand the context. This is not easy, but it is possible. Next up, I'll be looking at search, then main user of this data.