I believe relative time has gotten so popular, particularly in activity streams, for two main reasons: 1) it fits well with the relative and transient nature of the stream, and 2) it's shorter and easier to consume.
Relative time won't disappear from the product for these reasons, but we do show the absolute date on the items themselves. That doesn't help much with status today, but we will be exposing permanent URLs for status updates in the future, at which point you'll be able to view the individual update for the exact post time. Hopefully this will help?
I disagree on three counts:
1) The user status has no absolute date that I can find. This is the fundamental problem. If it did, and you could click through to get the date, the use of relative time on the user provile would just be a minor annoyance.
2) How is "2 weeks ago" shorter or easier to consume than "11/14/09"?
3) I don't know what your benchmarks are, but Facebook status updates come with date and time. And those are about as popular and transient as you get.
November 19 at 9:31am · · ·
1) Correct. Sorry for not being clearer: that is coming for status updates in our spring release.
2) It's not always literally shorter (though can be when you start talking about minute or hour increments); rather it has to do with the way humans mentally process time. From what I recall reading on this, it's that, with an absolute date, people still understand it by translating to relative time in their heads.
3) I'm curious what view of Facebook you have? My feed there is entirely in relative time. I have seen some activity streams revert to absolute dates once a certain relative date threshold is exceeded, e.g., more than 2 weeks. Perhaps that's what's happening here with an update from 11/19? It's an interesting idea we'll take a look at.
I haven't heard any other objections to using relative time in general -- anyone else out there reading, please feel free to chime in -- but you will at least have a way to get to the absolute time in the future. For the near term, I believe it is also a pretty straightforward code change to disable fancyDate, as I think it's called?
Thanks for that clarification. I look forward to the update.
As for Facebook and relative time, it appears that anything that exceeds a week reverts to absolute time. This makes sense to me.