There are many great info visualization tools...
... but the plain old timeline is still incredibly useful for organizing a collection of events that happen over time.
For instance, here's a timeline showing the history of Macs (you can click on it to see in full-resolution).
|Macintosh History in one timeline.|
Or you can start to see patterns in the sequence of events, as in this chart from the CDC about the course of events in patients with Ebola.
|Sequence of events in 3 patients with Ebola entering the US. Source: CDC|
There are many different kinds of timelines, each style with its own advantages. Every so often it would be great to be able to make a timeline of your own from a set of events that you care about.
I needed to do this the other day to make a sequence of events clear. "Aha!" I thought, "I'll just make one in my handy-dandy illustration app."
But as I started drawing, I realized that one of the adages of SearchResearch is:
When you're doing something repetitive, look for a tool to do it for you...
So I stopped drawing lines and putting times into the sketch, and opened up my search engine. Guess what? I found several timeline generation tools out there. I just converted my data into an acceptable format (which took almost no time at all) and voila! I had a timeline very shortly thereafter. Even better--it was an interactive timeline--you could scroll back and forth or zoom in and out.
This brings me to today's Challenge: it's only nominally a Search Challenge (although there's some of that here), but it's a sensemaking tool Challenge.
1. Can you find an online tool (or app) that will let you take a collection of events (both points in time, and periods of time) and create a timeline?
2. Using that tool, can you find a data set that you'd like to see as a timeline? (I've got a link to a sample data set below.)
The idea here is that as SearchResearchers, we sometimes need to step back and realize that using a tool to help organize information is a really great thing to do. Databases are one kind of organizing tool (we'll cover a problem like that in a future SRS Challenge), but other kinds of info visualizations can be just as useful.
Ideally, I'd love to see everyone's timeline. So, please post a link to your timeline in the comments to the blog. Or, if you're feeling ambitious, please post it in our shared doc:
SearchResearch TimeLines (link to doc)
Of course, it would be great if you searched for your own data set, but if you'd like to get started and don't want that hassle, here's a Google Spreadsheet for you with Events from the Viet Nam war. Note that some of the events are time periods (a month, or a year), while others are exact days.
(And make those timelines!)