New Timeline for AotW

7 August 2006

A couple of weeks ago, one of my favorite Internet-friends, Andrew Vande Moere*, mentioned the Simile Timeline API in a post on his information aesthetics blog. Timeline is described by its creators as …

… a DHTML-based AJAXy widget for visualizing time-based events. It is like Google Maps for time-based information … Pan the timeline by dragging it horizontally … like Google Maps, you can populate Timeline with data by pointing it to an XML file …

This weekend I finally had a little time to see what it can do, and found it’s great fun.

It is one of those rare, beautiful little software gems with a clear purpose and excellent execution.

The documentation is crap–beyond the basic installation–but that’s just a quibble. Perhaps I can help improve the docs later. It’s also a bit slow in loading events and misbehaves sometimes in IE. Another quibble. For now, I’ll have fun discovering all the controls and features by dint of ‘reverse engineering’ or trial and error. And I prefer Firefox anyway.

So, perhaps obviously, I’ve made use of this fine tool for a new Campaign Timeline on AotW. Give it a spin, won’t you, and provide some constructive criticism? I think it has huge potential.

screen shot: timeline
AotW timeline screenshot

I’ve seeded my timeline with content from the 200-odd battlefield historical tablets. I used those events because I’d already transcribed them in the database, and had serendipitously included time stamps for each as I did the data entry. The timeline application reads events from an xml file, so it wasn’t too difficult to write some php code to extract and write the xml from a tailored Events table in my database.

Now, un/fortunately, I can hear hundreds of other 1862 events calling out to me.

Add me! Add me!

Yet another hungry project mouth to feed.

* Vande Moere finds people using the most incredibly creative and useful ways to display information and pops them up on his blog. As a closet Tuftean, I’m a big fan. Usually, however cool, I can see no good way to use these amazing techniques. Until now. Thank you Andrew.

In Googling keywords mit, simile, and timeline, looking for other people using the Timeline API (hoping for clues to customizing it) I found about 200 unique references. Only about 10 of these are actual users. Everybody else is just talking about how cool it is. I wonder when/if web timelines built on this will be common?

6 Responses to “New Timeline for AotW”

  1. misschatter says:

    Hmm… I can think of great ways to use this on my site – to track player transactions, games, etc. I might have to give it a whirl. Thanks! (as if I have time to tackle one more challenge)

  2. Harry says:


    That monster freezes my machine.

  3. Brian Downey says:

    Thanks Miss. Sorry to distract :)

    Harry – please shoot me an email (I don’t have your addy with me), would you? I’ve seen slow loading and lag in dragging the bands in IE6, but not outright freezing.

    Also, is ‘monster’ a compliment?

  4. William J. Turkel says:

    Brian, Nice application of the SIMILE timeline. Rebecca Woods (who blogs at Past Matters) and I put together a demo for her text mining project, but it is not nearly polished as yours. Best, Bill

  5. Brian Downey says:

    Dr Bill – thanks for the compliment – there is much to do yet.

    I’ve been watching Rebecca’s Old Bailey cats & dogs project through Past Matters. Seems ideal data for this kind of timelining too …

  6. behind AotW » Blog Archive » More fun with APIs says:

    […] After playing with the Timeline API last week, and having reasonable success, I thought I’d try another widget this week. […]

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