Currently, the way that the ages and dates/times are displayed is inconsistent, and it would be beneficial to make them consistent:

Age Display Example Precison Relative precision
0 seconds <= age < 4 seconds just now asked just now 3 seconds Fair
4 seconds <= age < 1 minute {x} seconds ago asked 24 secs ago 1 second Excellent
1 minute <= age < 1 hour {x} mins ago asked 22 mins ago 1 minute Fair
1 hour <= age < 24 hours {x} hours ago asked 1 hour ago 1 hour Poor
24 hours <= age < 48 hours yesterday asked yesterday 1 day Poor
48 hours <= age < 72 hours 2 days ago asked 2 days ago 1 day Poor
72 hours <= age (this calendar year) MMM dd "at" H:mm asked Sep 10 at 8:03 1 minute Excellent
72 hours <= age (not this calendar year) MMM dd 'yy "at" H:mm asked Dec 10 '20 at 7:06 1 minute Excellent

Why is it that the time for posts more than three days old is displayed to the nearest minute, and to the nearest hour (for 23 hours) and the nearest day (for two days)? Surely if the minute that a post is posted is important for posts more than 72 hours old, it's even more important for posts under that age?

I'm aware that, on a desktop device, it's possible to use the workaround of hovering over the timestamp of pretty much any event to get the ISO 8601 UTC date and time, e.g.

event with tooltip

but on a mobile device this is not possible, as these feature requests from 2013 and from 2019 state. Going to the timeline for a post then toggling the date/time display format works on all devices, but is even more of a faff.

I posted a report in Review queue workflows - Final release where the dates reported in review are different to how they're reported in the posts themselves, but the behaviour in review is arguably much worse (all events less than 24 hours old are reported as "today") - I'm sincerely hoping that that's not the way that dates/times will be reported in future.

Sometimes (often for newer posts) it is very useful to have a better idea of when events happened relative to each other, e.g. if there's a post and multiple near-identical answers, but their display age is just "yesterday", it's useful to know how far apart the answers were posted to rule out plagiarism. If one of the near-identical answers was posted several hours after the other(s), then plagiarism can't be ruled out. If they were posted within minutes of each other (especially if this is very soon after the question itself was posted), then it's much more likely that the users just came to the same answer independently.

Here are a few suggestions to fix this behaviour:

  • Show more precision in the 1 hour <= 72 hours age range, e.g. by conflating their display format to "{x} hour(s), {y} min(s) ago" or similar.

  • Always show dates/times as ISO 8601 UTC format. This might not be well-recieved, since at any given time, a very small proportion of users will be in a timezone with no UTC offset. It's possible to use getTimeZoneOffset() to fix this, so dates/times could always be shown in the local time.

  • Show the time (H:mm or HH:mm) for all events that occurred this local calendar day in the local time zone, and switch to MMM dd "at" H:mm and MMM dd 'yy "at" H:mm for events that occured before this local calendar day. The precision for all posts would then be 1 minute regardless of the age.

Here is an example of sort of situation where this is especially irksome.

This Low quality answers review task is displayed to me like this:

There are three other answers, but the precision of all of the answer timestamps is of the order of hours:

so if this answer is similar/identical to one of the existing answers I have no nice way of getting a feel for the chronology of the answers - i.e. if it was likely that two users independently came up with the same answer (e.g. two similar/identical answers posted within seconds of each other) or if it's possible that one user tried to plagiarise (or, more generously, accidentally post a duplicate answer of) the other (the original answer and the duplicating answer being posted, say, 30 minutes apart).

For the question itself, "Asked today" means that the question was posted any time in the last 24 hours - so I don't know how much of a delay there was between the question being asked and when the answers were posted. Anywhere between 21 hours and a few seconds. Great. Annoyingly, "today" isn't even how the time is presented when viewing the question itself - it tells me the question was posted "4 hours ago":

Another example where the displayed times is confusing and unhelpful is this audit:

The question's timestamp says that it was posted "23 days ago", which is not a calculation that I can easily do in my head. The answer's timestamp gives the date and the minutes. It's not until I hover over the "23 days ago" that I see that the spam was posted two minutes after the question was posted. In this case the timestamps are irrelevant since the choice that I should take in the review is obviously to recommend deletion, but there are many times where this does matter, and having the dates and times displayed inconsistently is... upsetting.

Hovering over a timestamp to get the precise timestamp isn't a nice way to get this information, and is impossible/difficult on mobile devices: going to each post then clicking on the link to see the history is then needed.


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