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When sorting a list of items by date, is it more logical to sort it by the time that each item was modified or the time that each item was created?

I have seen both of these methods used and I'm trying to determine if there is a best practice here. My current thought is that by using the time created, the list of items will change less when a user goes back looking for an item. However for the last modified time, a user will have all of the files they have changed close to the top of the list.

It is definitely clear that both methods have pros and cons, which one more useful?

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    It actually depends on the data itself. Sometimes it makes sense to sort by modification date (this site use some kind of this for placing questions with new answers to the top of the list), but more often it's the date of creation (entries in a blog, for example). – alexeypegov Apr 5 '14 at 12:53
  • Good point, this is definitely a case of choosing the correct way to represent data to a user. Any idea as to what distinctively characterizes items like blog posts which makes them useful when viewed by date of creation? Likewise what, if anything, would be something that was better sorted by its time of modification? – Gunther Apr 7 '14 at 18:38
  • Sure, data that has a property of creation which is more important than date of modification from the user perspective (i.e. then modification is less important than creation). Actually, there is no simple answer to that question :) – alexeypegov Apr 8 '14 at 9:34
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I would try this exercise. Take two of your items, and ask yourself which one is newer or more recent. Better yet, ask users! Which attribute was most important in making that decision: creation time or update time?

Your example makes it sound like you are hoping to provide the user with easy access to most recently used files. In that case I would propose a third attribute, "most recently opened."

Write down the tasks that users want to accomplish with this interface, and determine which time attribute makes the most sense for that.

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The users will likely need the information in differing orders depending on their current task. Your best option is to provide them with many different sort options that are clear and easy to select from. Also consider resetting to a common default after their session times out - returning to an awkward customized layout after a prolonged absence is often confusing.

Good choices for default sort orderings are either alphabetical or most recently used, depending on context.

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