I just ran into a frustrating problem in Safari on my MacBook, where I was trying to find the time I'd loaded a web page yesterday.

But it doesn't give you the times, instead it lists them with phrases like "last visited today."

I've noticed this design pattern in lots of popular modern places:

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Why are all the big sites, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, reddit, etc. using this "Submitted an hour ago" phrasing instead of just putting a date time there?

In every situation I personally feel that I'd find the timestamp more useful, it conveys much more information. The only downside as far as I can tell is that it's slightly uglier.

Why are these sites choosing to reduce the amount of information shown (in some cases, e.g. my browser, making the information completely inaccessible via the UI)? Why are they giving times like this instead of just writing down the times?

  • 4
    Mouseover the "x time ago" text.
    – Kreiri
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 15:19
  • 1
    This mouseover tooltip is new to me too, and I'm on stackexchange for over 5y some places. This is not intutive. One of those "Oh, Yeah!" things; helpful, but only when you see it.
    – wbogacz
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 15:46
  • Related Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 15:59
  • The only reference point we have for time is that it is always now.
    – user67695
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 17:21

4 Answers 4


Faster comprehension at the expense of accuracy.

If I told you:

I began typing this answer at 10:14:25 AM on December 6, 2017

that would require you to know the current time and then compare it to what I told you in order to get a sense of when that was.

If I instead said:

I began typing this answer a couple minutes ago

then you no longer have to process when that was. Sure, you might not know exactly when that was, but the assumption is that the exact time isn't necessary. It's simply reducing accuracy for faster processing.

A similar example: if I told you that I'm approximately 829838709862 milliseconds old, yeah, that'd be the most accurate, but that would take a minute for you to figure out how old I am.

Note: As @Kreiri pointed out, often times, these relative time stamps are accompanied by the specific time in the title text.

  • What's the benefit of relative time though. E.g. I don't really care how long ago I accessed a web site, I just want to be able to see which YouTube video I was watching when my friend messaged me.
    – minseong
    Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 17:59
  • 1
    @theonlygusti yeah, that’s the trade off. It could have been an effort towards not overwhelming the user with too much data, when in reality it’s useful in many cases. It’s not always the best choice. Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 18:07
  • Most accurate would be to give the volume of your light-cone. Not sure what the units are for 4 dimensional measurement...
    – user67695
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 17:34
  • I agree with this answer. It is also how humans talk to each other; we don't deal in exact times (even when we say five minutes, we actually mean a couple of minutes). On a different note. Most of the sites in your example do actually give a specific time stamp. You have to go to the detail page or hover over the time. So yeah, they moved it out of sight, but if you still want to know the exact time you posted something: you can.
    – Ruudt
    Commented Dec 8, 2017 at 13:57

If a user in London posted at 10:30 a.m., is that their time, or mine? (I'm in Arizona.) I might start thinking too hard about that. Making time relative is a solve, though I agree that eventually it's better UX to switch to a date stamp ("posted Dec. 6, 2017") than keep it relative ("posted 43 days ago.")

  • It is already tomorrow in part of the world, so even the date is relative. I have seen comments I made to a blog post on a site elsewhere in the world show 20 hours in the future. Now that's productivity!
    – user67695
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 17:25

I think the answer is a combination of faster comprehension as suggested by @maxathousand, and time zone as suggested by @StacyH.

These "fuzzy timestamps" are often generated by using the TimeAgo jQuery plugin.

This article offers guidelines on when to use a relative or fuzzy timestamp, and when to use an absolute date.

Time zone issues

A problem with absolute timestamps is that they force users to convert timezones to get their local time. This will frustrate those who don’t live in the same timezone as your server. Users should be able to get the right time without making calculations or errors.

Faster comprehension

Accuracy isn’t important with relative timestamps, but immediacy is. When users want to know how long ago a site published a post, they prefer time units in written form. This way they don’t have to mentally calculate dates and times and count back from the present day.

Not only that, but users don’t have to convert time zones with relative timestamps. Content published an hour ago or five hours ago makes no difference to users who only need a general sense of recency.


Consider about a conversation. if some one asked you,"from when you have been here". or consider about any general time related conversation.. your answer will be "XX Time ago" . in very few conversation they use accurate time, this is because time is goes main priority at that situation.. but it is not always...

you can test it with your spouse or any friends... they will answer "XX Time ago" in max.

actually now a day social networking organisation are trying to modify the networking systems in like that, its will give you a feeling of real. you can take consideration of some chat application they are coming with chatbot. this is the real reason behind all this time factor...

and one more plus point of using this thing is that Managing the Time Zone , every country will see the things that "XX times ago" if it will show the real time, then have to write code for time conversion for all other countries... so it will take to more complex.it may affect the load time of the page in a bit at least.

  • I just tried it with some friends near me, "when did you get to school?" "when did the lesson start?" and both were answered with absolute times by everyone. I think your first paragraph has no evidential basis, I can easily imagine people replying "10:00" when asked "when did the meeting start?" or other time-based questions and conversations.
    – minseong
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 10:32
  • school times are constant and fix. every one knows that its from 10:00 , again you can take anther example that when did you catch your train ? , the person will obviously answer the train timing but not the exact timing when he get ride on the train, that always be easy to say the timing in hour but its not easy to humans to answer the times in hour along with minutes. and these are fixed timing, that schools will start at 10:00 and lesson will start at 11:00 . Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 10:55
  • its a mind set that they have to reached at the school at time , and they know it better that the lesson was at xx:XX time. its about the fix timing but in social network there is not fix time to post. Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 10:55
  • 1
    I think a better example is to ask someone "when was the last time you did {something}". Like "When was the last time you checked you bank balance?" or "When was the last time you bought some milk?"
    – JonW
    Commented Dec 7, 2017 at 12:41

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