Effects of time differences on a web application

A web application that has an interaction between two or more users will encounter problems when there is a time difference between those users. This is especially true in systems which involve future and past events such as scheduled meetings or a calendar or a chat system and in any country which has different time zones within itself.

Following factors which can cause time-related issues:

1. Time zone: Consider two users of the application belong to different time zones and one of user wants to book a meeting with the other. In such a scenario, each user will prefer the time to be displayed in his/her time zones. Also, in some cases the difference is so much that there is a difference in date too.

2. Daylight Saving: This change in time in some countries during different times of the year can create confusion for the users of a system. This issue will even usually occur when there is a recurring event, e.g. weekly and monthly meetings. A user might schedule a recurring event 1-2 weeks prior to daylight saving change. Once the event occurs within the daylight saving period, the time difference will come into effect. This will surely affect users who are from the country where there is no daylight saving.

One of the solutions to such problems is using one standard time to store all the time and date values in the database and then displaying it to the user in his/her time zone. There are multiple ways to implement this method is an application

1. Forcing the user to insert his/her time zone. This can be a part of user profile itself. So the time zone saved by the user will be used as a reference while inserting or displaying any date time values.

2. Deriving the time zone from the user’s system every time the user uses the application. This method is a bit complex but is very robust. This will handle scenarios such as when the user is travelling to other countries, etc. In this method, when a user is performing some action in the application which requires an insert to be done in the database, e.g. scheduling a meeting on a particular day/time, the time zone of the system used by that user is calculated. Using the reference of the exacted value, the time/date selected is converted to a standard time, e.g. UTC, and then saved into the database. Also, while displaying timings back to the user, system time zone is used as a reference to convert the saved UTC date/time back to user’s time.

Both of the mentioned methods have their pros and cons which can affect user experience. The selection of which method to be implemented will depend on the application’s requirement.

Such issues if not handled will lead to confusion and negative effect on the application which can make the users give up on the application and look for other applications which provide better user experience. Time difference is a parameter that needs to be considered for quality applications.


Dattaraj Naik

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