Now that Stack Overflow is over a year old, it's going to be increasingly likely that you will run into questions and answers which are also many months old. It seems like the way that a date is formatted is like this:

IF date is older than one year
    format = day month year time // eg: 10 Aug 08 at 12:15
    format = day month time      // eg: 15 Aug at 14:35

Maybe it's just me, but this makes it slightly confusing about how old that last example is. I have to think to myself that "today is the 14th, therefore '15 Aug' means '15 Aug 2008'

I know it's not really a massive problem, and it probably is an edge case (though this "edge" will be getting thicker over the next few months), but you could avoid the situation altogether by changing the date-formatting cutoff point to be 6 or 9 months. Given today is 14th August 2009, anyone can easily and quickly tell that 15 Dec means 2008.

And yes I do realise that the full ISO date is stored as a tooltip on each date


4 Answers 4


And could we please, please always be presented the full year with four digits?


I agree. However, instead of 6 or 9 months, I think it makes more sense to attach the year when the post was made last year.

  • 3
    that could be quite annoying in early january each year
    – nickf
    Commented Aug 14, 2009 at 2:35

I think the year should be added to the date if the date is from the corresponding month in the previous year.

So 12 Aug 08, 14 Aug 08 and 21 Aug 08 would all show the year if the site was viewed on 15 Aug 09.


My suggestion of how to handle this is:

  1. Less than one minute: X secs ago.
  2. Less than one hour: X mins ago.
  3. Less than one day: X hours ago.
  4. Between 24 and 48 hours ago: yesterday.
  5. More than 48 hours ago but less than a year: Month Day
  6. Same month last year and earlier: Month Year (eg Aug 08)

Obviously 1-5 are current behaviour (just added for completeness). The main point is that as others have suggested, the same month last year should be made more distinct from that month this year and that once you add year you can probably drop the day (it shows up on the tooltip so it's there if you want it). That way its still kept brief.

Some will argue for 4 digit dates. I'd say it's probably not necessary but 2 or 4 digits will work fine.

  • re: 4 digit dates... what about the Y2.1K problem???????
    – nickf
    Commented Aug 21, 2009 at 8:37
  • 3
    @nickf This is only for display, the humans reading it should be able to figure out which century the question was posted in by which programming language was being discussed. Commented Aug 25, 2009 at 16:52

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