What is the best way to display when a user last logged in to an application? We are developing a web app where the emphasis is on simplicity. Managers of the application are likely to be non-technical types who typically will not be early adopters. We want to display when users that they manage last logged in. Which is the best way to do this? Should we display absolute date/time of the users last log in or should we follow a Basecamp type approach where we casually describe the last log in time: eg: a few minutes ago, a few hours ago, yesterday, not recently, never, etc....

My fear is that absolute date/time might reduce the user's ability to process that information, whilst a more enhanced UX approach might actually be detrimental. The descriptive approach is more in keeping with the principles we use in the rest of the app, but I'm also concerned we are being too clever just for the sake of it. Does anyone have any thoughts or best practise suggestions?

2 Answers 2


The Stack Overflow/Stack Exchange approach is quite good.

Show the date as "23 mins ago" with a tooltip or "show details" link (thanks Dan) showing the exact date and time: "2010-10-13: 08:34:40Z", though you might not want to use that exact format!

  • The best answer is always under your nose.... d'oh. Many thanks
    – thesaundi
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 9:18
  • I agree with Chris. Since managers usually want to know exactly what's happening with their employees, the exact time has to be easily accessible. Managers usually want reports too, so I'd say you should probably avoid a tooltip and use "show details" or something similar (to make sure it's printable). Moreover, if you have user settings or preference, consider making this a customizable feature.
    – Dan Barak
    Commented Oct 13, 2010 at 10:05

I'd say, keep it simple: go with the '23 mins ago' format with possibly the tooltip ChrisF suggested.

But keep in mind, it just doesn't matter.

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