Thursday, February 28, 2008

One More Easy Timeline Option

All right. I'm well into my documentation for creating your own timeline. I hope that it will be finished, tested, and posted to the Internet within two weeks.

However, as luck would have it, I've come across another option for creating timelines. I don't have a lot of information about Timefo, and it's still in its Alpha phase, but it looks intriguing. It has an easy form for adding events (see graphic at right). It allows you to incorporate images or videos (it prefers YouTube and Flickr). You can also provide a location for each event and the timeline automatically maps it via Google Maps. There's a search feature that parses the timeline's text for particular terms. You can add labels (kind of like an Event type in my timelines) and tags (so you can link various events of different types/labels). You can also highlight particular types of events. (Timefo manages to do these things in part because it is making use of SIMILE's Timeline API.) Take a look at this timeline of 2008 San Francisco murders to get a sense of how it works. (The site works best with Firefox.)

I've put a quick timeline together and I generally like the results. There are a few drawbacks at the moment. For instance, there is not a way to build a timeline with a group. I assume (or at least hope) that Timefo is planning on implementing such an option. I also think that they could do a better job explaining the difference between tags and labels and the tags could be better implemented. At present, it doesn't seem like you can search among events based on tags. At least, I haven't been able to do this on my timeline. Finally, when you click on an event, you almost always have to scroll down to read it all. The event description and the timeline never seem to fit completely on the screen. And it's not like I'm using small screens or resolution here in ECIT.

I came across Timefo through a post its authors made to the SIMILE listserv in January. In it, they suggest a few things they have planned for the future. These include populating a timeline with RSS (one hopes that it continually updates, unlike xtimeline) or Google Spreadsheets. One proposed feature that I like is the option to share the events on your timeline. What that means is that others could remix your events into their own timeline. So they are thinking about mashing up their own data from the beginning. Very smart.

Right now, Timefo is not really ready for public use. For one thing, it's still not really accepting sign-ups. (FYI You can sign up using the link that I've provided.) And it's lack of group building tools means that at the moment it isn't what I've been looking for in a timeline. But that doesn't mean it can't become that in the future.


lucas said...

Hi Brian,

Thanks for taking the time to try out Timefo, and for the write-up!

We are actively working on Timefo and there are some new features just around the corner. Unfortunately, multi-user is not one of them...yet.

As you noted, you can't do much with tags yet, but we felt like the tags were important to get in from the beginning. We wanted them in there now so that when we do start to use them, people would not have to go back and add tags to all of their events! And indeed, it would be nice to search your own timeline by your tags. The search feature is getting a major revamp, too.

As for the labels, there is more coming in that area soon.

You mention that the event description does not fit on the screen at the same time as the timeline, and we realize that is a problem. It also is a hinderance to being able to provide portable timelines, i.e., a way to embed a Timefo timeline in a website like a YouTube video. We are currently thinking of two approaches to solving this problem: 1) Go back to the SIMILE "bubble", but with more information; 2) Put the events in a lightbox (some people love this idea, and others hate it). If you have any other suggestions or like one of those two ideas, please let us know.

Again, thanks for your feedback, and we hope you continue to check back on our progress!


Lucas Rockwell
Timefo Co-Founder

Brian said...

Lucas, Thanks very much for your comments.

I'm glad to hear that you're continuing to think about the how to most effectively implement tags and labels. Perhaps as part of a tutorial for the site you could create a timeline that makes effective and different use of tags and labels. Showing people how you envision them to be different from one another is an important step, I think.

As I wrote, how I understand labels right now are to be a way to determine how the event will be colored on the timeline. Tags, on the other hand, can be a way to connect events that do not belong in the same large, label category. Is this correct?

As far as displaying the event description, I'm not generally enthusiastic about lightboxes. Yes, it looks nice and you'd be sure that the information is displayed in an easy to read format. But you lose the functionality of scrolling and seeing what is around the event.

The SIMILE "bubble" gets closer to allowing this functionality, but it is hard--in my experience--to scale the bubble appropriately to photos or other media. This would get my vote for the moment.

Also, I noticed today while playing a bit more with the site that you have very nice preview features for the media and descriptions when adding them to events. I would make these more prominent somehow.

Finally, when saving events today, I realized that the "add event" page is so long that the "Event was successfully updated" message is not visible. It only appears at the top of the screen, and so I end up hitting the submit button several times waiting for a confirmation. I would put this message at both the top and the bottom of the page.

Lucas Rockwell said...

Brian, you are correct about the tags and labels in both respects: 1) They should be more clearly defined, and 2) Labels are mostly for putting events into major groups that will have the same color on the timeline, for instance, "Places I have lived," or "Places I have worked". Tags will be used for searching (both your own timeline and other user's timelines), and for consuming the events of other user's timelines.

After talking to a few more people we have decided to go with a lightbox for displaying events. Although you are not a lightbox fan, we promise to make it worth wild for you -- the first draft of this will be done by the middle of next week.

We'll see what we can do about making the preview of the media, location, and description more prominent. When we get the site a little further along, I think a brief video of how to make a timeline that covers all of the features would be a big help for people.

As you noted, if you have to scroll to add or update an event, you don't notice that the event was added/updated because the message is off the screen. We can either add another message to the bottom, or even make the page jump back to the top after an add/update. Thanks for pointing this out.