Thursday, October 25, 2007

Timelines again

All right, I have continued playing with my Timeline, and I'm happy to report that I'm getting closer to solving most of the problems that I discussed in my previous post. Mainly, this means that I now have a way to take information from this Google Spreadsheet and use it to dynamically create a timeline. Moreover, I can give other users access to the spreadsheet as a collaborator, and they can add events (or erase them) from the timeline as well. (Wayne, for example, added the Battle of Hastings to the current timeline.)

I have also found out how to add images (click on "Men Without Women") and links (click on "Nobel Prize in Literature") to the descriptions. The latter took a little bit of coding, but nothing obscene. I think it would be easy to hand the students a list of basic commands to accomplish making their own links.

What is making this timeline work so much better than my first one is it is being powered by the SIMILE Project's Exhibit software. This software is--to borrow a term from our TLC conversations--allows you to make mashups of information by building a database and linking objects together in whatever relationships you want. It also provides a good way to filter this information. They have numerous examples: billionaires in history, US Presidents, and cereal mascots. You'll notice that the first two use geotagging (as well as Google Maps) to produce their results. A less visually stunning, but perhaps more useful example is this conference schedule which someone built within Exhibit. The filtering seems really useful (as well as the ability to search on any field). You can also view the conference as abstracts and as a Timeline. This is because Timeline is a component you can add into your Exhibit. And Exhibit, fortunately, allows you to take feeds from Google Spreadsheets.

There are still a few things that I would like to work out on this timeline. At the moment, I can only use years with events; months and dates don't display accurately. I would also like to have the ability to have events show up in different colors based on the "type" of event they are, something I have specified in the spreadsheet. So I have some questions out to the folks at MIT, and we'll see what they come back with.

At the very least, however, this means that I could run a spreadsheet in my classroom without too much work on the part of the students. Good times.

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