In emails and inbox notifications the relative timestamps were converted to absolute timestamps about a year ago(sic! It was in Oct '14).

These days (Oct '15) I'm often checking review queues. Most of the items in the close and reopen queues are fairly recent. Therefore the timestamps on those pages are relative. Often questions by new users start out relatively bad, but are then improved. To understand the current state it is helpful to understand how we got there. If the question, the edits, early answers, and all comments are labelled as appeared "2 hours ago", we cannot see the dependency between the older versions of the question, the edits and the time answers and comments appeared.

I would hope that moderators at least get a full chronology of everything that happened to a question. We could have it all for reviewers if there were no relative (and thus inaccurate) timestamps. If all were the ISO 8601, including seconds reviewing would often be a bit easier.

Actually I am surprised that this has not been asked before. But even looking for just "relative timestamp" I could only see discussions and alleged bug-reports about inaccurate relative timestamps. This Q is about a different kind of inaccuracy: The fact that two times "2 hours ago" doesn't tell me about the chronological order of those two events.

If checking with a setting in the user profile increases the server load too much, why not get rid of relative timestamps altogether? Or always send absolute timestamps but bundle some static javascript doc to allow the client to display both relative and absolute time?

  • 3
    Easily done with a userscript, here is one: stackapps.com/questions/2528/… :) – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Oct 24 '15 at 22:50
  • In general, the answer to "can we configure...?" is "no, but you can userscript it if you really want". SE is very nearly allergic to options, mostly to allow efficient caching. – Nathan Tuggy Oct 24 '15 at 23:42
  • Is the problem here that we're using a relative time, or that this time is too imprecise? In other words, if we showed "2 hours and 12 minutes ago", would that make things any better? – Thomas Orozco Oct 26 '15 at 12:00
  • @Thomas: That we are using a relative time. In your other words: Adding the "minutes ago" makes it better. But it is not optimal. Imho, the point of the relative times is to have a brief text that immediately provides a feeling to the user when a change was done, versus a precise string. If you add the minutes, maybe my next request is about adding the seconds. I fear that this could lead to a war based on personal taste. I followed Shadow's tip and installed the user script. I still feel that his should be user customizable, and implemented by e.g. some java script on the client side. – cfi Oct 26 '15 at 13:23

...and after typing the last sentence, it all suddenly came to me:

There's a tool tip: Hovering over the relative timestamp shows the absolute one.

Now I learned about a disadvantage if you always try to use the keyboard and avoid the mouse. You never see the tooltips.

I'd rather have a client-side config option to always display absolute time, but maybe I'm in the minority?

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