I'm wondering if anyone has any advice on how to best communicate to a non-technical user the concept of a 'data snapshot'. A bit of background on what I'm trying to do:

Our analytics application takes in data snapshots (this snapshot includes historical data up to the snapshot time) - the user is then able to do various analysis on the data. The key conceptual complication as far as usability goes is that the snapshot time point might be completely different from the current period. For example, the snapshot could have been taken in February 2011 (middle of Q1) while the current time is June 2011 (end of Q2). It is really important to communicate to the user that what they are looking at is not the 'live' view of their data but rather what it looked like during the time of the snapshot. A further complication is that a lot of the analytic measures (KPIs) are rates and are period sensitive (meaning that early in the period the rate might not be very informative because the quarter just started and the rate is easily offset by small changes in the counts)

I was trying to come up with some phrases to clearly tell the user what the 'Feb 2011' date means and was curious if these were still not user-centric enough: "last data update", "includes data until or up to", "data freshness", "data date". I'm hesitant to include anything with the word "current" in it (such as "current quarter") because the user might confuse this with the real current time and think the application has a bug or something!

Regarding the period sensitive KPIs and need to inform the user that the rates might be 'immature' due to the snapshot being very early in the quarter, I was thinking of including a little progress bar to indicate how much of the period (quarter) has been completed.


You're absolutely right in avoiding the word "current". How about just saying something like "Data accurate/valid for: February 2011"?

As to the progress bars - static progress bars are dangerous. They don't show much and the user might get confused and think that there's some process in progress. But that may be solved with the proper infographics - if you make it absolutely clear that you're talking about the specific three months of that quarter, then it won't look like a regular progress bar.

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I think there are times in which a button (or link for that matter) are self explanatory, and that happens mostly when the button has a unique action.

For example, in a form, "Submit" will only submit the form. If the form is valid (ie fields are filled in correctly) there is no variation to the action of submitting, like "submit only the name" or "submit only if today is Monday" etc. "Submit" means submit.

On the other hand, there are buttons like yours that require a bit more explanation. The main action for your button is "show me a snapshot". But your button has a condition attached to it, or a sub-action if you will: "show me a snapshot [1], from month X [1a]".

To avoid wordiness in your interface, I can see a few solutions. One of them is to simply have a button with dynamic text describing the month that is available as a snapshot.

[February 2011]

This button should have some way of indicating [1] it is a button, [2] it is a snapshot. Now you have to use your imagination or design preferences to achieve this: an icon of a camera or camera diaphragm, the word 'snapshot' as a label adjacent to the button, you name it.

Another option would be a dropdown with JS onChange attached to it. In its default state, the dropdown says 'Snapshots', or 'Most Recent Snapshots'. When the user clicks on it, the months with available snapshots are shown as options, user chooses one and it is loaded automatically via onChange.

[Snapshots v]

Obviously these are only ideas from the top of my head and I'm just getting out of bed... :P but I hope they give you some ideas. Essentially try to separate the different actions from this complex button and try to keep text as short as possible.

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Othe contexts in which your users might have encountered the idea of snapshots in time: automatic backups (like Time Machine), saved games (where you can cheat and roll back to a previous save). So referring to the snapshots as "backups" or "saved versions" as of such-and-such date should communicate your intent clearly to users. I can't tell if you're asking what to call it in the "chooser" interface (deciding where to roll back to) or how to convey it in the UI when you're looking at a previous state; for the latter a clear label (banner?) of the form "data as of $date" should be clear and only as invasive as it needs to be.

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