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Examine the use of Elapsed vs Exact timestamps in Flow
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Update 1: The Alternative discussed in comments:
We should show both the Exact and Elapsed at once (for a limited time), as gmail does, and described in T94353#1178467 (this is Quiddity's recommended option), Then, display just the Exact time, with the Elapsed time in a mouseover tooltip.

Update 2: (Copy of description from merged task)
Notification timestamps are all in relative time -- 2s, 2m, 2h, 2d, 2mo, 2y, 3y... While it's useful to see that an event took place "yesterday", knowing that something occurred "3y" ago is the opposite of helpful, since the same timestamp might apply to notifications that arrived 364 days apart.

We can debate what the ideal interval is after which we should switch to absolute time. Mac Mail, for example, goes to dates after "yesterday," while Twitter trips to dates after "24h." We can also discuss the proper form notation should take. One thing worth noting is that as long as dates are within the current year, we can safely drop the year from notation. Whether "within the current year" means within the current calendar year or the current trailing 12-month can, again, be debated when the time comes.

Original description
Many users like the new "Elapsed" timestamp e.g. 4 hours ago
Many users prefer the old "Exact" timestamps. e.g. 16:11, 4 October 2013 (UTC)
This is especially relevant for anything more than "1 day ago". Anyone trying to closely follow the order of previous posts, has to mouse-over the flow-timestamp in every single post, to see when it occurred.

(Original/alternative idea: This could be added as a user-preference. Possibly, it could be as a checkbox labelled "Use elapsed-timestamps in discussion pages by default" (or similar), under "Date-format" at Special:Preferences#mw-prefsection-rendering.)

Sample discussions:

See also:

Event Timeline

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@Nemo_bis: do you mean this should not even be implemented as an option? It should be the default and only behaviour?

Alternatively, we could Either:

  • show the Elapsed for a period of time, and then switch to Exact
  • show both at once (for a limited time), as gmail does, and described in T94353#1178467 -- (this is my recommended option)

fwiw, I did some quick research into what other sites use:

Exact timestamp only:

Elapsed timestamp only:



@Nemo_bis: do you mean this should not even be implemented as an option? It should be the default and only behaviour?

No, I just think it's worth tracking what preferences are being added or removed.

But that was only for preferences which should be removed (from MediaWiki), not added (to an extension)...

Why a user preference? We're trying to avoid those.

Quiddity renamed this task from Create a Flow user-preference for showing the Exact timestamp by default to Examine the use of Elapsed vs Exact timestamps in Flow.Aug 5 2015, 7:05 PM
Quiddity updated the task description. (Show Details)

I've clarified the title and description, to indicate that a "user preference" is now just an alternative option
What seems to be recommended now (both internally from discussions, and externally by practices at other major websites that have timestamps as an important component - see my long list above), is to show either

  • a combination (e.g. like gmail, showing Mar 22 (12 days ago) for anything up to 2 weeks old)
  • a mixture (switching from Elapsed to Exact after 12 or 24 hours),
  • or to always show Exact timestamps by default, with Elapsed times given in a mouseover tooltip. (not as a text-flip as is currently used, because that makes it hard to copy&paste the exact timestamp. (this is a common practice on some wikis, especially when communicating within discussions - e.g. "In your comment above from 16:11, 4 October 2013, you suggested that [...]")

Copy from merged task:

Some considerations (some I mentioned when discussing it for Flow in T111596#1804185 ):

  • I totally agree with relative timestamps being useful in the "recent period". So keeping relative for a short term and absolute for a longer term makes total sense to me.
  • I also proposed to make the absolute times to be contextual, that is, not repeating the year if it is the current one. That helps these to be more compact but still read naturally.
  • In the specific case of notifications, absolute timestamps may just need the day reference and not the exact time. If we are using "2 days ago" for a recent notification I don't think we need to know that last years notification happened at 3:15pm, knowing that it was on "April 3, 2015" should be enough.

I would propose the "recent period" to be the current month. So an example list of timestamps could be:

  • 3 min.
  • 2 h
  • 1 day
  • 20 days
  • Feb 1
  • Nov 20, 2015

This keeps things consistent with the division by day we use in the Notification Page (i.e., you don't have several daily groups with notifications saying "1 month ago")

More timestamp format related discussions at T94648: Examine the use of Elapsed vs Exact timestamps in Flow