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Tools & Resources for Temporal Projects

Temporal projects rarely require new capital equipment, although you may have sub-projects embedded in them, like video footage or archival materials, that require special equipment.

Published onOct 14, 2019
Tools & Resources for Temporal Projects

Temporal projects rarely require new capital equipment, although you may have sub-projects embedded in them, like video footage or archival materials, that require special equipment. Occasionally there will be equipment costs for special displays of temporal projects, like the interactive light board displays that are popular in exhibitions.

Most programs and platforms for doing temporal projects work well on a standard computer without extra processing power, and many can even be run entirely in a web browser, making it easy to work on any internet-connected computer.

Programs that are helpful for temporal projects typically fall into one of three categories:

  • Timeline platforms or programs that allow you to create one or more serial series of events of ideas.

  • Story-telling platforms like StoryMapJS, ESRI Story Maps, or programs that help with the creation of movie-style narratives.

  • Data and network analysis programs like Tableau or GraphCommons, including those used for mapping, that allow you to show how spaces, ideas, or other factors change over time in relation to each other.

If you find that you have a media- or data-intensive project, especially if it has a single sequential arc or path, you may be best served by a program that was developed to display these materials rather than one explicitly for timelines. You can then use the visual or textual content to make the temporal aspect more explicit. These types of projects are addressed in more detail in the narrative and spatial project descriptions.

Timeline platforms and programs focus on the juxtaposition of moments in time, so they are most useful when your goal is to create a comparative overview that helps your audience consider the context of specific moments within a longer period, or when you need to show the interrelationship of multiple complex series of moments. The specific tool you choose will depend on the needs you determined in your planning process, as well as the time and money you have available for customization.

The fastest and simplest tools are standalone web applications like Tiki-Toki, Timetoast, TimeMapper, and the default version of TimelineJS. In such programs, you enter content via a form or spreadsheet and the application automatically creates a timeline on a page with its own url. The programs vary in what additional features they provide, like allowing multiple simultaneous timelines to work together or allowing interactive maps, but they all make it possible to create a well-formatted interactive timeline in an afternoon. These are good choices for teaching or for projects where the timeline is a relatively small component, and they all have tradeoffs: for example, Tiki-Toki has the most support for graphic and multimedia elements, but the free version cannot be embedded in your own website.

If you need a few more features, some timeline makers have one or more paid tiers available as subscriptions that may meet your needs. Common features include allowing you to create multiple timelines, allowing more flexibility about how you embed content on your own site, greater degrees of color and style customization, and multi-user options. Remember that these are subscription based, which means that the timeline is usually hosted in the application, even if you embed it in your site. That means that the timeline will only work as long as you subscribe to the service and as long as the service remains online.

TimelineJS and TimeMapper are both open source javascript applications. In fact, TimeMapper uses TimelineJS and just adds additional coding to provide some additional features for display and interaction. They do not have paid options; instead, if you wish to add functions beyond the ones built into the web applications, you can download the code they use to create the timelines and modify it yourself (or by hiring someone to do it). A major benefit of this is that you will have the code and content you need to alter and display the timeline on your own computer or server, so if the application is taken down your timeline won’t disappear. This is also useful if you are displaying sensitive or private content and you want to limit access.

There are also plug-ins that can be added to other applications like Omeka or Wordpress sites. If you are already using one of these tools, this is an easy way to use an application that is already designed to work with your web platform, but they can be difficult to set up and learn if you haven’t used the tools much before, and they have limited customization options that can be difficult to alter without it causing complications for the rest of your site. If you already have material in one of these sites, using a plug-in will speed up the process of adding content significantly.

Finally, if none of the existing timeline applications seem to meet your needs, you can consider programming your own timeline. Unless you have coding experience, you will probably need to hire someone, but there are resources available that can make the process a little easier. TimelineJS is both an open-source application, as described above, and a set of components written in javascript that act like the building blocks for more complicated web features. There are other sets of these building blocks that are useful for making timelines as well, like chronoline.js, vis.js, and timemap.js. Each of these was built to solve particular problems in displaying time scales, media, or connections between events, so if you’re going this route it is wise to spend some time finding components that start out closely matching your needs.

When choosing one of these applications, make sure to consider the features available, but also think about how timelines made using the application tend to look: you will notice that demo projects using that tool will all have some things in common, like how to navigate between events, that may work better for some kinds of projects than others. These features are more complicated to change in open-source applications, and are probably not editable at all even in pro versions of commercial applications.

If you look for timeline software, you will run across many options that make nice looking graphics and say they can be used in web pages. Many of these, however, are designed to make static images, with all the material visible at once in a consistent size. These will not display well on tablets or phones, and there is a very low limit to how much content you can reasonably display. They are most useful if you want to display a small amount of content in a scannable, infographic style, perhaps for a book, video, or conference presentation.

Continue Reading: Budgets & Funding for Temporal Projects

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