From what I understand, it needs to be set to the time zone that the server is in, but the times and dates that it uses aren't in any US time zone at all. This is very confusing for our users... Can someone advise how to fix this?
Personally, I think the time zones are a bit confusing in the way that they are presented. We're in the UK (and so is our server). We're therefore using:
(UTC+00:00) Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London
However, UTC is really a time standard, rather than a time zone. We're actually on GMT (which equates to UTC+0) half the year and BST (UTC+1) the rest. So, when our users set their time "zones" as:
(UTC) Coordinated Universal Time
which is mathematically the same as UTC+0, they get the wrong result in summer (message times are out by an hour). However, it's a very understandable thing to do. Listing UTC+0 definitely implies that the time won't change in the summer.
The political nature of timezones does make them difficult to present and select. Do you have a suggestion for improving their presentation? Or do you think that removing the generic UTC option is sufficient to resolving the confusion?
Removing UTC might help, as it appears just to confuse things. Certainly it's led to our users being in UTC by default, meaning they are getting the wrong times on messages.
I can see the political difficulty - no-one wants to be in a time zone named for someone else's capital! However, I still find it confusing that time zones are listed as UTC offsets, when the UTC offset changes in the summer in most zones. As a result, the UK and Iceland both have UTC+0 entries, although we use DST and they don't, so half the year we're at UTC+1.
It might work to state DST as well:
At least it's clearer what's going on. And you aren't sorting by the contents of parentheses, which is a bit confusing visually. Or, because the above arrangement means that the city names are not aligned, put summer time at the end.
The represented offset will adjust throughout the year based on the current time offset of each region (which is subject to local rules and the reason for the long list). The offset helps find a specific grouping of politically-synchronized cities (with respect to time adjustment laws), but the city list is the important identifier as the offset will adjust based on the local laws governing time adjustments throughout the year.