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Currently the network has a very inconsistent track record when it comes to injecting thousands separators in numbers >= 4 digits. Sometimes on the same page there will be commas in one element and not in another.

The primary advantage to using thousands separators is that it makes a number easier to read, at least for me.

The primary disadvantage is that it makes them harder to read for folks who use different languages or locales, where commas are actually decimals, and thousands separators may be decimals, spaces or other characters (or not even an existent concept).

I've seen arguments that the SE network should use comma separators because "the site is American" or because "English is the language of the Internet." I am not quite obnoxious enough to say I agree with either of those statements. And as a Canadian living in the United States, where arguments about m/d/y vs. d/m/y, gallons vs. liters and miles vs. kilometers have plagued me my entire adult life, it would be fantastic to have some consensus about this and to see some consistency implemented across the network.

I understand that localization efforts are in progress. But I still think it's a valuable discussion to have - should we force thousands separators, prevent them, or cater to the individual locale? The downsides to catering per language are (a) screen shots and other artifacts may still seem strange to users of different locales and (b) what if my computer is set to US-English but I would prefer not to see thousands separators? Perhaps the answer is to always use the shorthand (e.g. 5.4K, 137K) instead of listing out the entire number in some places but not others - then the discussion about separators becomes moot.

PLEASE NOTE: This is not a bug report about the individual cases where the use of thousands separators is inconsistent. There are plenty of those already, and if pluralization has taught us anything, it seems to be an unwelcome way of reporting the issues. I hope it is the intention for the localization efforts to push all number and other common formatting tasks through common functions to eliminate this chance for discrepancy.

This post is an attempt to discuss what the policy should be, in general, not to discuss individual instances of this inconsistency.

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I vote for Maya numerals all over. –  Mat Sep 23 '12 at 18:56
    
@Mat Roman numerals would also be acceptable I think. –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:05
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How about a very narrow space. I forget where I've seen it done, but it's nice. –  AndrewC Sep 23 '12 at 20:18
    
@Andrew, I don't know if screen readers read out those figures, in which case using spaces might confuse those? But that said, there doesn't seem to be any indication of the language in the page HTML either. –  Arjan Sep 24 '12 at 16:47
    
As always, it's not even as simple as . or , - some very populous regions of the world group the numbers differently: e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lakh –  unixsmurf Jan 19 at 11:42
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3 Answers 3

Yes, commas please.

The primary disadvantage is that it makes them harder to read for folks who use different languages or locales, where commas are actually decimals [...]

I don't see how getting people understand such formatting can do any harm, as surely such formatting is not unique to SE. (And there's not even any calculation involved, like to get from Fahrenheit to Celsius.) So, I'd say even the disadvantage is, on the long term, an advantage for all users.

(I am Dutch, and we also use commas for decimals. But no problem to read different, expected, formats at all.)

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I suppose you're right that on this site there are no places that I know of where a number could be a decimal. But I still disagree with the notion in general that we should force our formatting standard on the world. This is the same attitude that leads to problems with transposed dates - "oh the user who entered that date was American, so they must have entered September 8th instead of August 9th." In order, I would be in favor of (a) not using any formatting, (b) formatting per locale, and (c) forcing commas everywhere. I don't expect everyone to agree with me, of course. :-) –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:28
    
@Arjan, good (decimal) point –  Chris Gerken Sep 23 '12 at 19:28
    
My order would be c, a, c :-) And even in many figures, I guess we'd have two decimals, not three, @Aaron. And of course, I would object to "forcing" some format on random websites, but on sites like SE I think it's fair to expect a user to understand that the formatting might be English. –  Arjan Sep 23 '12 at 19:33
    
@Arjan where did I say we'd have three decimals? –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:34
    
You didn't, @Aaron. But seeing 1,200 or 1.200 would easier both be taken for thousands than seeing 1,20 and 1.20. Hence, I feel visitors who're open to seeing non-locale formatting won't easily get confused by seeing the English formatting. –  Arjan Sep 23 '12 at 19:35
    
Ah, you meant decimal places. I guess that depends. For someone who is a veteran here, it really isn't going to matter. For someone who is new here, and hasn't quite mastered what all the numbers mean, how would they know if the site owners liked to express those numbers to 2 decimal places or 3 decimal places? Are you seeing enough cases of 4+ digit numbers where forcing this formatting will truly help you? –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 19:37
    
Okay, underscores it is, @Aaron! And I know few have been wondering about the comma (like in the reputation graph) -- but they have learned something useful, if only for the next time they order something online ;-) And I also understand what people mean when writing "i", "u" or "thx", but it just makes me itch! –  Arjan Sep 23 '12 at 20:11
    
(Also, @Aaron, please downvote now -- you don't need to be afraid of a pity upvote at this moment, and I know how voting works here!) –  Arjan Sep 23 '12 at 20:13
    
@Arjan I'm not sure where I sit on this issue yet. You have good arguments but I want to make sure I play devil's advocate and represent folks who may not be participating here on meta at all. –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 23 '12 at 20:15
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Currently, the biggest crime is the lack of consistency. In my opinion, all numbers displayed on the network should be subject to one of two formatting rules: a "short" version and a "long" version.

The short version would be the 13.1K style, perhaps limited to three significant figures. The longer version would be the complete value, subject to thousands separators (13,101).

This design would centralise the code responsible for formatting numbers and would be the ideal place to support localisation, if that's the route the network is taking.

In the short term, the US locale could be used (because that's already present in many parts of the site).

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One might argue for a thin space rather than a comma: gives the same benefit but is less culturally specific. –  Richard Jan 19 at 9:59
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Statistics such as:

viewed 727145 times
viewed 270866 times
viewed 813541 times
viewed 35030 times
viewed 311031 times

Can definitely use a comma for readability (look closely at the last two examples).

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This "answer" seems to me like it was supposed to be an upvote on the question or one of the answers. –  Lix Jan 19 at 9:34
    
I am not sure if meta.so is a "question/answer" website. –  Salman A Jan 19 at 9:39
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I agree with you that meta is a strange beast... But all sites (even meta sites) follow the Q&A format. People have suggested adding a comma - people have expanded on that suggestion - all you're doing here is agreeing with what has already been said. What I'm trying to say is that this answer doesn't really add anything to the discussion. –  Lix Jan 19 at 9:42
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