Thursday, April 3, 2008

Google Timeline Gadget

I'm continuing to work on my tutorial for building your own timelines. I'm getting very close to having a final version of something I think can be useful for even those who have no experience writing HTML. If you've been following my work on this topic at all over the last six months or so, you'll know that I will suggest you host your data within a Google Docs spreadsheet. Well, a recent update to Google Docs may make the whole process even easier than that which I have come up with for the moment.

What's been added to spreadsheets is the ability to push your data through a "gadget." And one of those gadgets just happens to be a timeline gadget that is based on the Timeline code written by SIMILE. You can read about how to use the gadget here, but it is very simple:
  1. Set up your spreadsheet with the appropriately titled columns.
  2. Click on the gadget button that is in between the "Wrap text" and "Merge across" options.
  3. Scroll down and select "Timeline Gadget."
You then have a number of options. You need to set the range of cells for the gadget to read. Then you can choose the units for the upper and lower bands (week, months, or years are the only choices). You can also set the width of these units and the background colors of the two different timeline bands. All in all, it's a very nice system.

There's just one problem...I haven't been able to get it to work. I keep getting an error message that suggests that I haven't titled all my columns correctly. After spending all this time working with Timeline and its scripts, however, I'm pretty sure that I've got that part right. I'm pursuing help with the powers that be to see if I can figure out how to get this working.

In any case, here's the part where I give you the positive and negatives to this approach and which will inevitably suggest that my chosen approach is particularly suited to what I want to achieve. On the plus side, it should be super easy to use. The gadget gets around your having to write an HTML side to a timeline. You can still share your spreadsheet with multiple people easily and thus have the database/wiki like feel to building and editing the timeline. Finally, the gadget includes an option that makes it easy to embed it in another web page or to include it in your iGoogle page. This means that you could build the timeline within a spreadsheet, but still place it within a page of your own design.

The disadvantages at the moment include the inability to customize the timeline as much as you might want to. You only have three units of time to pick from. You also cannot use more than two bands in your timeline. The events cannot be color coded by type of event. There is no search box nor can you restrict events by one aspect or another. And you can only use particular column headers at the moment. This means that the information you can include in your timeline is limited.

For these reason, I'm still a fan of the more robust timelines that I've been working with this year. That probably comes as no surprise to anyone. But there's at least one more option for you to use for now.

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