Many of the most accessible timeline applications have you create and store your timeline on their site. Even if you display it on your own website through an iframe, your data is still saved in their system and if that tool stops being maintained or is removed entirely, your materials will be lost. This is a very common issue facing digital tools, as the continuous changes to computers and to web structures mean that tools need to be constantly updated to remain functional.
This does not mean that you need to avoid these web applications entirely, just that it is critical for you to take steps to make backups of both your content and the code or styling you use to display your material as a digital project.
Many people start assembling the content for their temporal projects outside of the tool they use to build the digital project. Then, when they start building the digital project, they start making changes to the content itself directly in the tool or application they are using, and don’t think to update their source files too.
It is always a good idea to save your content, including associated media, in a form that is entirely separate from your digital project. If you are using a tool that updates directly from a spreadsheet, this is easy: just save an additional copy of that spreadsheet somewhere else from time to time. Automated online backup systems can “watch” your files for you and do this any time they detect a change, or at scheduled intervals. You can use this same process if you are entering content directly into an html file that displays on a web page as well.
This process is a little harder if you are using a tool that requires you to enter content manually into the timeline program or into a content management system. Regular screenshots can help, but if you accidentally delete something you need or lose the entire project, you would have to spend hours retyping content or finding the media you used. Take an extra few minutes any time you make an update and copy it into a separate file first: a spreadsheet works well for this, but a word document with headings for each event can work just as well. If you are using a tool that has you add media by linking to a url rather than uploading the media directly, make sure you save local copies of the media in the same place. As always, make sure to save a backup of all this source material somewhere else!
If you made a custom-coded version of your timeline project, you are already doing this. If you used the default options and you are either linking directly to the application website or showing the timeline on your site by embedding it, switching to hosting the code for it yourself will help insulate you against unwanted changes to the application. This is only an option with some tools, and some charge a lot for this option. This can be a good reason to choose something like TimelineJS or TimeMapper from the beginning, even if you don’t need to do any custom coding at the beginning.
Your temporal project includes a lot more than its content! Whether you are hosting the code yourself or not, you should make sure you have a copy of as much of the code as possible, as well as details about how it looks.
If you’re using an online tool, try taking full-page screenshots of all the settings you’re using, so that you can rebuild them quickly in the same tool. It is also a good idea to save pdfs or screenshots of the timeline’s appearance, and to make periodic archives as described below.
If you’re using a tool like Tiki-Toki that has proprietary code, you may not be able to download all the needed code to rebuild your project if it is lost. Try duplicating your project occasionally so that if something messes up on your “live” version, you can return to your stored copy.
If you do have access to the code, save a copy of all your code files, including the code for the page where you display the project, and a copy of all your media, in a single folder or zip file in a cloud storage or online backup program, and, if possible, also on an external hard drive that is kept somewhere safe. Make sure that you update these backups when you make a change to your program, but save earlier versions long enough that you can go back to them if one of your changes doesn’t work!
You may only need your temporal project to remain accessible for a certain amount of time. After that, you can archive it so that you retain information about the content and the way it functioned without needing to have a usable interactive digital project. If you are already hosting your project yourself, you can save copies of the html files (along with any appropriate script files) as well as copies of the text and media you use. Make sure to use non-proprietary, open access file types wherever possible.