Timetoast and Timeline JS – A Review

I decided to do my review of a Digital Humanities tool on a data visualisation tool as these are useful for representing data in a bright, interesting manner and may be useful to me in the future for portraying my data. I chose to do a comparison of two tools, Timetoast and Timeline JS, as both tools are similar timeline tools that show the data in a linear fashion.

Timetoast is a web based tool that can be found at timetoast.com and it is a data representation tool that takes the data that one inputs and represents it in a timeline fashion. The site is split into three main plans ranging from “Free” with no charge which allows you create timelines, have one user, and has banner ads on the page, “Basic” which costs $5.99 a month and includes no advertisements, option for up to five users, ability to create groups, and the ability to create timelines, and also, a “Pro” plan which costs $8.99 a month and allows all the same features as the “Basic” plan but you are allowed up to 35 users on this plan (Timetoast, 2016). There were many articles online from people giving their reviews of Timetoast with some saying that the site was a positive with it being a useful classroom tool and study resource as you could have multiple users all using it a same time and being involved in one group (TeachersFirst, 2016) while other opinions were also shown saying that the simplicity of the site could often cause problems for people who want to make more of their data with colour changes as you cannot deviate from the stock format (Terrachino, 2015). After reading these articles, I found that this particular tool would be useful to me in future projects as if I want to represent data I wouldn’t want it to be too flashy and I would be relatively happy with a nice looking stock format.

There wasn’t a roadmap available for this tool online but Timetoast did have a blog that has been operational since 2014 that included information about site updates such as server upgrades so that you could keep track of recent updates on the site (Todd, 2015). From using the tool and creating my own timeline, I found that Timetoast was relatively stable and simple to use with features that I enjoyed such as the ability to turn the timeline into a list format by just clicking a switch. However, while using the tool it was apparent that if you had too many points in the one area the timeline began to become clustered and cumbersome to use as each point was too close together and this made it difficult to click on the point within the timeline that you wanted. Also, the fact that you had to put in the exact date of something happening was rather awkward as if you only had the year of when something happened and not the exact date there was no option to put in just the year leaving the person to put in a random date instead. Other than this, the tool worked very well and there were no other apparent bugs.

Timetoast was first released in April 2008 (Timetoast, 2016) and it would seem that the tool has quite a positive following with many new timelines being posted each day by its users. Timetoast is not an open-source data visualisation software but it does include some very useful features for no cost at all if you choose to take the “Free” plan. Once one has created their timeline by inputting their data they can then take the timeline and embed it on their website or just copy the link straight if they do not want to embed it. This makes it very easy for others to access the timeline without having a Timetoast account.

After using this tool, I believe that I know how to use it and I feel that it will be very useful in future projects for represented research data in a linear form such as showing how certain step were carried out within the project.

I created a timeline using Timetoast on a brief “History of Computers” with information sourced from livescience.com (Zimmermann, 2015) which can be seen here; Timetoast History of Computers

Timeline JS is a free, open-source web based tool created by Knight Labs which allows the user to easily input data in an excel style template which is provided with all the necessary headings for you and grants the user the ability to create a well-structured piece of visualised data in a linear form. In order to use this tool you must have a Google account as the data you input is saved in your Google Drive and a Google spreadsheet is used to bring your data to life. If you are a more advanced user you can use JavaScript to customise your timelines further. This tool supports many different media types and users of Timeline JS from all around the world have helped translate it into more than 40 languages including Chinese, Arabic, and Russian (Timeline JS, 2013). After searching, I couldn’t find many articles relating to this tool which I believe is because it is still in its early stages but the reviews I did find related back to the tool as being “a powerful piece of software” with many customisation options (School of Data, 2016). From what I found while researching the tool, both on the website itself and online, I believe that it will be very useful to me in future research.

While there is not a road-map online for this tool, there is an about section on the site relating to the major upgrades they’ve had since the tool was launched such as the ability to embed the timelines into other webpages and the addition of many more languages from all throughout the world with the help of their users (Timeline JS, 2013). From my use of the tool, I found it to be very stable with no apparent bugs and with a really simple interface that allows the user to create a stunning piece of visualised data. I found no problems with the tool that are worth noting, the slideshow type manner in which the timeline is presented is very impressive looking visually as well as being very simple to operate and the timeline underneath the slideshow allows the user to see exactly where a certain point took place in relation to the other points on the timeline. This along with the immensely easy to use spreadsheet data inputting system makes this a fantastic tool for anybody to use.

The tool was released to the public in April 2012 (Timeline JS, 2013) and has gained quite a following since with over one thousand likes on the companies Facebook page (Facebook, 2016) and over seven thousand followers on Twitter (Twitter, 2016) highlighting the community surrounding it. However, the tool is still in its early stages meaning that it hasn’t gained as much of a following as some of the other tools on the web. Its simplicity is one reason why the tool has gained the community that it has based around it such as the ease at which after the user has created their timeline they can save it and view it through a link or embed it on webpage. After one has saved the spreadsheet with their data that was used to create the timeline it is saved to their Google Drive account so they can refer back to it at a later date.

After my use of this tool, I feel that I understand how the tool works in a basic sense but I’m sure there are more things that this tool can achieve when I learn how to use it in a more in-depth manner. In the future, I believe that this tool will be highly useful when I am trying to represent data in a linear form with its clean cut design and simple usability features.

I created a timeline using Timeline JS on a brief “History of Computers” with information sourced from livescience.com (Zimmermann, 2015) which can be seen here; Timeline JS History of Computers

In conclusion, after using the two tools, Timetoast and Timeline JS, I found them both to be simplistic digital tools that allow the user to visualise their data in a timeline for no cost with limited effort on the user’s part. Timetoast is a great tool and while it has limited customisation options it still presents data in a way that is pleasing to the eye. The only faults I had with this tool was the inability to just enter in a year for your data instead of a complete date and the fact if one had too many points on the timeline it became clustered and cumbersome to navigate. Other than these minor faults, I found the tool to be very easy to use and I felt it displayed the data very well. After using Timeline JS, I found that I had no faults whatsoever with the tool. It was simple to use with well guided instructions and allowed the user to customise the timeline in accordance with their own skills such as changing font and colour schemes and if you needed something more advanced you could alter the code to suit you. This along with the tool’s ability to add many points to the timeline with it still being tidy and not clustered is where Timeline JS shines where Timetoast falls down. However, I still found both tools to be great at visualising data with each one having different features that the other lacks.

 

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