Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Search Challenge (8/26/15): Know how to create a timeline?

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.  

Search on!  

(And make those timelines!)  


  1. Good day, Dr. Russell, fellow SearchResearchers


    As I mentioned, I have been re-reading first posts of SearchReSearch Challenges. [data sets]

    Searching for data and datasets

    [define timeline] I know what they are. Just that not sure if showing future events count as a timeline.

    [timeline generator] [timeline maker online]

    Many options. Some require login or pay.

    Timeline looks interesting and we need to add event one by one.

    [create timeline google sheets]

    I created my first one and shared in SearchResearch TimeLines.

    1. I am SearchReSearching new datasets and while doing it, was thinking about history of Macs timeline. I wonder if the available tools can create one with so many colors or if for that a more specific software is needed.

      Also I wonder if this is also a timeline or made like one or is something else. Timeline?

      So much fun and very interesting as always.

  2. I am interested in the evolution of lands held by Mexico in the past two years. I was going to put together my own timeline Query [timeline mexico land united states] but in a Fusion Tables search at the this Wikipedia site if you go down to the heading "Territorial evolution of Mexico" an interactive timeline exists.

    1. That's quite a discovery! Thanks for showing it to us.

      It makes me think that there are quite a number of different KINDS of timelines. This is a very different one than the one Ramón showed earlier.

    2. How about a similar timeline for Canada?

    3. There's a similar Wikipedia page for Canada but I must be missing something because I can't find any interactive timeline on either page, Mexico or Canada. ԅ[ •́ ﹏ •̀ ]و

    4. I thought of a bunch of timelines that might be of use for me and realized that probably I will need this for my resume very soon. I'm on a deadline now, though, so I spent just a few minutes on this. I searched [ convert linkedin to timeline ] and I (re)found Just for a start, I tried it without much tweaking and without updating my LinkedIn data (stale since 2013). I shared the results on the SearchResearch Timelines doc.

      I have also tried Timeline.JS with a simple table. I wanted to upload the list of projects I authored but all I got was the message "Building Dates" and an eternal wait.

      I've browsed some more timline online apps and I really liked one that needs a lot of work but may prove of use for when I decide to make something nice with my resumé: it's a tutorial titled Interactive Infographic with SVG and CSS Animations.

    5. Thanks Dr. Russell for your comment in my post about Datasets. Yes, online changes so fast, that is why your knowledge is great to helps us to find answers always and not just to find one way or one specific site.

      Thanks RRR for the link, it is very interesting and cool to watch.

      Luis, the interactive timeline is like a map.Here is Canada's from your link.


      To find aditional list to make timelines.

      [types of timelines] because I also wonder is that timeline or not?

      Timeline, Wikipedia A timeline is a way of displaying a list of events in chronological order, sometimes described as a project artifact.[1] It is typically a graphic design showing a long bar labelled with dates alongside itself and usually events labelled on points where they would have happened.

      Timelines examples.

      [Milk production dataset] [male female born ratio dataset]to search for some data to make new timelines.

      Ricardo Blanco posted this site in April.

      I wonder, where is Remmij?

    6. Thanks, Ramón. I had seen that animated map but I wouldn't call it interactive since I can't do anything apart from watching it. I would love to be able to make an image with a widget I could control myself (a slider or track bar, or even a virtual jog/shuttle dial/wheel/knob) so that I could advance to some specific time — but I fail to find a simple way of converting a set of images into an interactive graphic.

    7. You're welcome, Luis. Interactive/animated graphic are great to see and easy to understand. I hope you can find the way and if you do, please share with us.

      Wish you luck with your Resume.

      Dr. Russell, quick question. In order to create spreadsheet Vietnam War events, you entered the data one by one or was in some more automatic way? Thanks!

      I am asking because searching for datasets or event sequences, made me think about if we searching for data for example on csv format or also with information that we need to work to create the timeline.

    8. I have the data in a Google spreadsheet, then imported the entire data set into the timeline tool. (I did NOT do it one at a time.)

    9. Thanks Dr. Russell.

      [google docs timeline]
      Google Docs' New Charts Editor Adds Timelines, Org Charts, and Better Data Visualization. (2010) I'll try with Google Charts.

      [google docs timeline] search tools, last year.

    10. Mr. RG, thanks for the inquiry… a hiatus stint with a twist of time-out detention… ┐(´-`)┌
      was thinking of doing a timeline on blackballing, but got lost in the minutia ◊ sigh — enjoyed your "Google Through the Years" timeline find.
      Oldest Inhabitants of Washington Building
      from the 17th century
      aoidc, since 1865
      meā culpā from the hinterlands
      (rrЯ's use of 'evolution' as a search term was interesting & led me to use 'atlas'… seems useful for historical work.)

    11. Excellent tip about Google Docs, Ramón! I don't have the time on my side, otherwise I'd love to explore the available templates:

    12. Glad that you are back Remmij ! And as always you share very interesting articles.

      [Я] = Ya

      Also blackballing is very interesting and the Atlas site has excellent data and also includes Canada 'evolution' map.

      Thanks Luís Templates are something I don't use a lot and I think I should do. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I just have to share this. If you google images for [ google timeline ], you will find a vast and wonderful plethora of different styles and types of timelines. Among the results, I found a great visualization of a Music Timeline, made by a Google Research group I hadn't heard of, the Big Picture Group. Apart from that amazing interactive Music Timeline (updated weekly!), they're also responsible for the 2013 Google Dictionary OneBox I use so much whenever I'm looking for etymology, use over time or synonyms of a word. They also made the daily updated YouTube Trends Map, and more.

    I also watched a video of a lecture gave by one of the Big Picture Group researchers, Fernanda Viégas. The lecture is in Portuguese (she's Brazilian) so the video is probably not of much use to the rest of this blog's readers. But the lecture is precisely about a democratization of the ways to make visualizations and makes reference to a tool they created called Many Eyes (a website under, I didn't research why). The lecture is from Oct 5, 2013, and the tool is not available anymore as "Many Eyes", but its features were revived in Watson Analytics (as you can read on their FAQ doc). Watson Analytics is also under IBM. On a brief exploration, I couldn't create the timeline I wanted from my "Autorias" dataset (a simple 3-column table (Year / Media Type / Project Description). Either the website is a little less intuitive than I needed to be, or I'm a little less adept at using it than I should. So, instead of a timeline, the only graphics I did there was a treemap, which I also shared on the SearchResearch Timelines doc.

  4. After looking data for possible new timelines, saw that this tool is not the best choice for that data (milk production for example) and thought doing one about Google. Looking for data to make it whit queries like [Google history] and [google through the years] found this one. Google Through the Years

  5. thanks for this Dan, will take a look (caught this blog post in your news lab hangout)..
    i made one by hand only the other day on history of webRTC using google drawings

  6. Dandy one here

    jon tU