Clear the confusion over Date Received and Date Sent

New Office for Mac 2011 users are busy importing their Entourage mail or Windows .pst files and panicking when they see everything has a Date Received of “right now”. What happened?

Exactly what is suppose to happen.

What you should be asking is “Why have both of these types of dates? Aren’t they the same thing?”

No, not at all.

Dates and data and metadata! Oh my!

Every E-mail message that is received is stored with two types of information. The first type is called data. Data is the actual message itself and everything that goes into making that message. It’s the original content as it was sent.

The second type of information is called metadata. Metadata is information about the data. That may sound confusing but it’s really very simple to understand. A phone number, such as +1 (212) 555-1212, is a piece of data. But we also know that the “+1” means this is a number in the United States and that the “212” is a New York City area code. “United States” and “New York City” are metadata that give us some meaning about the phone number.

When you click the Send button in your E-mail application, you are creating a new piece of data called a message. A message includes the subject, addressee, content and a lot of hidden information about the mail servers sending the message. It also includes a time stamp about when it was sent—the date sent. The date sent will never change and is a permanent part of the message.

When your recipient receives the message in his Inbox, he is receiving the message as it was sent. His E-mail application is not changing the data. However, it is creating some information of its own about the message—the date received. The date received, though, is not stored within the message. Instead, it’s stored separately to preserve the original message and is considered non-vital information.

Date columnsImport panic!

By default, many E-mail applications show the Date Received for a message. This is usually what’s important to him. It gives him some frame of reference for when he should act on the message. I received it yesterday and should respond to it today!

When many messages are received at once, such as when importing from a .pst file or archive file, the date received suddenly has no meaning. Everything is being considered as received the moment it is imported. Remember, data is permanent but metadata is not.

This may cause you some panic until you realize you can sort by Date Sent instead of Date Received. To do this in Outlook for Mac, right-click or Control-click on the Date Received column header (or any column header) and select Date Sent from the contextual menu.

If you wish to hide either the Date Received or Date Sent column header then right-click or Control-click the column headers again and de-select the item.

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2 comments to Clear the confusion over Date Received and Date Sent

  • David Atherton

    As a technical explanation this is extremely clear, but, as so often, techies can’t see the wood for the trees. What the end-user requires is software that works. Importation into Outlook doesn’t. Regardless of the article above, if I import a message with a specific Date Received, I don’t want to have to display this forever more as Date Sent since, in six months time when I file a message to/from this same person, I will definitely prefer to see it as Date Received instead of Date Sent. To be forced forever to display two columns showing Dates Received and Sent just because MS can’t get it’s act together and import the data EXACTLY as I had it before is just plain ridiculous. The technology should be flexible enough to do this. At the point of importation, why couldn’t the user be given a choice of how to import the data instead of MS, as usual, deciding what is best for us.

    The bugs inherent in this initial release are multitudinous; freezes, crashes, out of memory error boxes (when I’m not), imported data missing whether via Mail or Entourage, lack of flexibility in how to display the items in the Navigation Pane, etc etc I could go on. Given the premium being charged for Office with and/or without Outlook, this is extremely disappointing. Three years it’s supposed to have taken. How many people were assigned to the design of this poorly conceived app – 3 or 4?

  • Eugene

    Absolutely agree with David Atherton. I have no need in date of import. As it was before on my previous computer i want to see the dates of receiving messages. All last 10 years i was sorting messages by “Received” and it worked correctly. Now it don’t. For a pity.