Friday, 6 January 2012

Timelines – Visualising date/time data

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I don’t find tables of data or continuous prose having data buried within particularly beautiful. I do find visual expressions of ideas and data more memorable and easier to analyze.

This post looks at different timeline creators available on the web. All are free or have a free component and some need to be downloaded and run on a web server. If you want to create a few timelines for your teaching or provide a timeline facility for your organisation; read on.

Timeglider (
My favourite site for aesthetics and smoothness of operation. The creation interface is easy to use and the timelines produced are satisfying to use with a good level of functionality.

 Event labels and span lines expand to provide further information, links and images. The time base intervals can be changed from 1 hour to 600 years using the zoom slider so allowing a wide range of date/time data to be easily managed and interrogated on-screen. Although the website is Flash based and so inoperable on iPad devices, there is an open source Javascript plug-in viewer available for download.

Events can also be listed and sorted by title, start and end date. Timelines can be scrolled by mouse or keyboard. Account options include Free (3 timelines, 1000 visits per month), Plus (5$/month for greater functionality and collaborative editing) and Enterprise (organisational data display).

The site also includes a facility to create a free timeline based on the New York Times database of news stories using search terms of your choice (

A great site for creating a few free timelines with the minimum of fuss.


SIMILE Timeline (
This timeline widget was created as part of the SIMILE project (MIT, 2003-08) that was investigating how to visualise data held in different formats.

The open source code can be downloaded and run on your own web server.

Although the timelines can be generated from a variety of source data types and integrated with other webpage features, eg Google Maps, this one is really for experienced web developers.

There is a WordPress widget however if you want a timeline of your blog entries and themes;


Dipity (
A good looking site that offers a host of features to include media rich content, use of real-time data sources with the ability to allow/control collaborative contribution or editing. Dipity members can also leave comments on the timeline or individual events.

A neat feature is the ability to add existing content from sites such as Youtube, Flickr, Blogger etc rather than having to add manually all of the timeline events.

I have experienced problems at work where the timeline does not display in the browser (a firewall issue I believe) and the site can be rather slow to load.

Account options include Free (3 timelines, 5000 visits per month) and other options ranging from $5 to $100 per month for greater (enterprise) functionality. There is quite a lot of advertising and you would need the Channel plan ($50/month) to have ad free timelines.

Great for those users who are ‘Web2 enabled’ and want to aggregate all manner of content.


Tiki-Toki (
By far the most beautiful timelines around!

The simple panning control is intuitive and works smoothly bringing events (with links to more details) gracefully into view. A zooming tool would be good for when your timeline gets larger.

Images and video can be added to events but you can only create 1 timeline with the free account. Bronze ($5/month) and Silver ($20/month) accounts give 5 and 25 lines respectively with other features available. A teacher account ($100/yr) seems to focus on 1 teacher and 1 class, not a suitable solution for widespread use within an institution.

This is the site to use if you want one WOW factor timeline.


TimeRime (
My first impressions were not great and I put this site some way down my top-sites list.

The timelines created improve once you learn how to navigate the site properly using the various tools available (some more obvious in their use than others).

One nice feature is the star rating and number of views data shown for each timeline.

The account structure looks quite attractive. A free account gives an unlimited number of timelines (max 100 events per line) with most of the functionality enabled. The Premium account (e39/yr) gives greater storage, events and video options. The Edu Standard account (e149/yr) provides a number of desirable ‘walled garden’ features that many teachers would want to see.


xTimeline (
I find this site quite frustrating to use. The line slider is difficult to control and events tend to ‘dance’ around the screen as you try to explore the events.

Further details of each event appear in a drop-down screen that obscures the rest of the line. Although a nice feature of this creator is that you can have a group working together on a timeline, the outcome just isn’t as engaging as the sites mentioned above.


TimeToast (
These timelines are also rather frustrating to use; event bubbles appear with the slightest mouse movement and the panning control take some time to get used to.

Further detail again appears in an area that grows to obscure the rest of the line.

While the layout is clean and simple, I would prefer to use a number of the other sites.


This brief coverage has focused on web based generator sites. I'll post again in the future to look at other sites for creating printed timelines or software to run on a PC (not to mention existing timeline resources ready for use in the classroom).


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