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I did my fair share of Googling on this question and came up with nothing but results of most-significant to least-significant measurements.

Eg: 2014-05-01 16:54:30

I want to get some feedback as to what date-time formats people think people-in-general like best to read.


Thinking of clocks, its whacky and usually less-that-practical to show a real ticking clock in a format other than Hour:Minute:Second, 16:54:30 due to the width of the text being displayed constantly changing otherwise.

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Just be aware that there are also social and cultural differences to consider, so you should try to find out the context and the exact reasons behind the answers. I personally think a more universal system (same with timezones) will help solve the problem. –  Michael Lai May 2 at 0:17
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People in general like to read what they're used to. Unfortunately, this is culturally dependent - the US tends to use mm/dd/yyyy and Europe dd/mm/yyyy (which leads to potential ambiguity - what actual day is 01/02/2014?). People who commonly deal with computers (and some cultures) use yyyy-mm-dd (to remove the ambiguity). Why not have this be user-determinable? Most OSes/applications will gladly display dates/times however you ask. –  Clockwork-Muse May 2 at 2:41
    
The problem is everyone has a preference and they are all different. At least with yyyy-mm-dd we all read it as the same date. What date is 5/4/21? May 4 2021? April 5 1921? There is no universal preference, and many common formats will be read differently by different people. –  Grant May 2 at 3:00
    
@Gramt, I'm particularly open to using identifiers that are not purely numeric. Especially English Calendric names, eg "October" or "Oct" –  ThorSummoner May 2 at 6:05
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What do you want to achieve or what do users want to achieve with the dates? Please keep in mind cultural differences in date-notation. Besides that, humans are not that good at all with dates. We tend to understand 'in two weeks' or 'a month ago' better/faster than a date/time stamp. A date most of the times creates cognitive load. –  Ruudt May 2 at 13:29

6 Answers 6

The dd mmm yyyy format (e.g. 1 Jan 2014) is usually my approach on projects as it prevents possible confusion caused by displaying multiple units of time in 2 digits. In my opinion, 2 February 2002 or 2 Feb 2002 is far more readable than 02/02/02 or even 02/02/2002.

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Why hard limit this to one or the other?

If you REALLY must choose one then what is your potential user base used to? If they are all in the UK, for example, then use dd/mm/yyyy or all in the US then use mm/dd/yyyy. That said, what happens to a UK guy it the US?

This is about UX and the best UX is to let the user choose the one they are most familiar and comfortable with.

If you actually look at the global spread, DMY accounts for about 60% of the global population followed by 29% on YMD and then the rest either on MDY or mix of these.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Date_format_by_country

Have to admit though I get frustarted with US companies with global products which insist on using MDY as it is what they are used to yet it is used in countries which have no more than 7 to 10% of the population so we offer all three within our web application.

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While it's a good idea in principle to give the user the ability to change it, that assumes that users will actually deviate from the default option. And users as a rule tend to stick with the default settings unless they're totally incorrect (for instance using languages as an example; if the default language was Japanese then they'd change it to English(US) as they can't read it otherwise, but if the default was English(GB) they'd likely leave it rather than change it to English(US)). –  JonW May 2 at 15:56
    
Our experience has been the opposite - the biggest criticism of our application early on was we only offered UK date formats and we had tens or more of requests every month from Americans requesting US date formats. Now we offer the three and using their IP also try and set it correctly for people when they signup so they hopefully don't have to set it themselves. –  bhttoan May 2 at 17:29

An epoch calculator (http://www.epochconverter.com/) Displays dates primarily as:

Thu, 01 Jan 1970 03:25:33 GMT

Though I don't consider it particularly east to interpret.

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If you have to stick to one format without user preferences, I would go with:

Month Day, Year (Ex: May 1, 2001).

This reduces the ambiguity of displaying a date like 05/01/01 and having it interpreted four different ways considering the year and month/day variations. However, I would suggest using this type of date format in a more casual environment and not a table/spreadsheet where it would be easier to users to scan a row of numbers to find what they were looking for.

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Why not “1 May 2001” ? At least, “1 May 2001” follows an order — from smallest to biggest. –  Nicolas Barbulesco May 3 at 6:45

If its in the past, then the ones they are used to:

  • "Yesterday"
  • "Last week"
  • "A few secons ago"
  • ...
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History Lesson:

Are you targeting a specific region or country? Because the humans there can have a different preference than humans somewhere else.

<sarcasm>Also what is opposite of human...do dolphins prefer a specific format which I am unaware of?</sarcasm>

If you are referring the other end of the spectrum as computer-preferred-format then you are actually looking into the calculation of seconds since the UNIX epoch of 1970-01-01 00:00:00

Even though you might see something like 2014-05-02 08:41:52 coming from MySQL or 02-APR-14 08:41:52 AM from Oracle, the database is actually storing the integer 1399034512 because that many seconds have elapsed since the UNIX epoch.

The database has a setting to output a default format to the end user which is configurable so you could very well have something like hh:mm:ss dd/yyyy/mm come from your database if you wanted to.

If you wanted to store 1950-01-01 00:00:00 then the database merely stores -631134000 and formats it when you request to pull the data.


Now to answer your question:

In the U.S. you can expect the following format to go well:

  • 5/2/2014 8:51 AM

I omitted the seconds because it causes too much noise

  • 5/2/2014 8:51:32 AM <- way more processing power required of the Average Joe/Jane

If you really want the seconds then you can show them upon hovering the item.

If you are worried about expanding/contracting widths then use a monospaced font such as COURIER.

One thing I highly recommend is displaying the date separate from the time like this in HTML:

<tr>
    <td style="text-align:right;">5/2/2014</td>
    <td style="width:20px;">&nbsp;<!-- Spacer --></td>
    <td style="text-align:right;">8:51 AM</td>
</tr>
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