Thing #19: Online Timelines

Online timelines are an excellent resource for sharing chronological information and Thing #19 focuses on creation tools. I chose this topic since I am unfamiliar with creating an interactive timeline using web-based programs and was interested in learning about particular creation tools. The 23 Things description of online timelines that accompanies the learning tasks also indicates some unexpected uses for these tools, including creating a timeline for a class syllabus and collecting Internet postings in order of appearance based on search terms. These ideas offer a good extension of the traditional uses for exhibition materials and could likely supplement information literacy instruction.

To start, I explored various articles related to Diptiy, which is an online timeline tool. I learned from the Spellbound blog that display options for timelines include left to right scrolling, flipbook, lists, and map styles. This variety is important from a design perspective since it allows creators to tailor the timeline to fit the purpose as well as the available web layout. Additionally, the timelines can be truly interactive since including links, as well as videos and imagery is a feature; in fact, videos will play directly from the timeline so there is no break in continuity.

A second blog by Mark Krynsky offered information on how dimity can be used to create a lifestream. This can be accomplished in two ways–either manually or through the Dipity import which can automatically pull information from Blogger, WordPress, Flickr, YouTube, Pandora, and other sources and arrange the information chronologically. Additionally, information that is geotagged can be placed on a map. This latter option creates a great tool for displaying collection information in a way that can help users understand context. In fact, this could be done both at an item and a collection level to help users get both global and more specialized views of an institution’s holdings.

Dipity is as much an aggregator of social networking content as an academic resource, making it yet another organizational tool available for managing social resources. I found several suggestions for compiling a channel to do just that on Jack Humphrey’s blog; his personal Dipity channel pulls resources from YouTube, Twitter, WordPress, and an RSS feed. The real power is in tailoring what is pulled to avoid seeing every possible tweet and instead organize content around a theme. Everything is then displayed in an orderly and aesthetic manner, with contents available right from the Diptiy channel.

It is worth noting here that for academic timeline creation, Simile is a popular widget that can be embedded into a webpage and contents entered manually. However, it lacks some of the features that Dipity offers, including most of the social functions.

One of the upsides of using Dipity seems to be that the timelines can be both embedded into a website and hosted on the Dipity page. The former is important for including resources within an institutional page or exhibition website, but the latter allows for serendipitous discovery of your contents. The Dipity homepage features a spotlight of user-generated timelines as well as a search feature. There is also an option for purchasing a pro plan (starting at $4.95), which allows you to use custom backgrounds, which is important for institutions trying to create a cohesive look. For a good example embedded into a website and branded for the organization, see the Minnesota History Timeline at the Minnesota Historical Society website.

Trying it out
I decided to test out Dipity by creating a simple timeline, titled My Life. Of the numerous options available for populating the space, I chose to allow the program to pull links from my Delicious page and also to compile entries based on a search term, technology, set to pull only videos from YouTube. These parameters are rather narrow, but I could easily have included blogs, Tweets, my YouTube channel, search results from websites other than YouTube, music linked from my Pandora account, etc. I could also easily have added manual entries and uploaded content, which would be the most useful function for a library or institution.

Classic Timeline:

Displayed in a Map Format:

Applications for Information Literacy Instruction
Obviously from an organizational standpoint, using timelines is an excellent way to add context to objects or collections in a visually appealing manner. For information literacy courses there are a number of possible uses. As a teaching tool creating and embedding a timeline into a webpage or course software would generate an interactive resource on a given topic–particularly with a tool such as Dipity, which plays and displays content right within the timeline space. For instance, it would be possible to record video tutorials and place them alongside tweets, blog posts, articles, and uploaded documents or images; this could cover a range of information, including things like an ever-expanding resource on information literacy topics, or a chronology of technology use related to the Internet. Creating a timeline of topics to accompany the class syllabus would create a visual aid that might help students better understand the trajectory of the class.

Students could create online timeline projects showcasing resources on a given topic. They could also use a Dipity channel in place of the widgets discussed in the previous post. In that instance they could link social network accounts to the timeline and generate a compilation of their communications for the course held over Twitter, blog posts, etc. They could leave this as a stand-alone channel or embed it into a website. Either way, their communications would be compiled chronologically as a resource for both the instructor to grade and other students to read through and comment.