Making time


In the preceding post I considered one possible way to visualise a Twitter exchange, but expressed concern that the temporal separation of events had become lost. Seeking to redress this shortfall, I thought that timeline tools might offer a way forward. So finding myself needing to ‘kick the tyres’ of TimelineJS, that’s where I turned. Here the data that you use to compose your timeline is kept in a Google sheet, which means that adjusting or amending your timeline only requires a change to the contents of a spreadsheet cell. It also makes consistency across the elements of the timeline relatively easy by cutting and pasting cell contents. Adding each tweet is no more complex than pasting its url into a cell.

It would be nice at this point to have an embedded version of the timeline for you to try out; although TimelineJS offers iframes, doesn’t permit them unfortunately, but if you follow this link, you’ll be able to take a look through. The actual timeline at the foot is draggable, clickable, allows you to zoom in and out, and quickly move from one point to another. Otherwise the navigation arrows in the graphics panel permit you to move forward from slide to slide; in this particular form, that means from tweet to tweet. Any hypertextual elements (urls, hashtags, twitter handles) are all carried through and preserved on the slides, although any embedded content such as images and videos aren’t.

I liked …

The ease with which content can be added and updated, together with the different options for grouping or categorising different elements. Once displayed, that content can then be interacted with in a variety of ways; moving through the exchange can be step by step, or in leaps and bounds.

I wasn’t so keen on …

…how linearity dominates the display. Where each element of content is time-stamped, then that’s to some extent inevitable, but with a only a single chain of events permissible, any parallel, or branched exchanges cannot be rendered. This then becomes little better than the Twitter timeline, where different people may reply to tweets at different points in time and set up alternate threads of conversation, making it difficult to trace the different paths.

A more significant loss however, is that of the RT’s and Likes which provide one means by which level of engagement and participation might be gauged. These also make visible peripheral participants who, though may not be tweeting, are still involved in the sense making.
So TimelineJS represents a compromise where ease of production and consistency of display compete with flexibility and control. Although you gain a much better sense of temporal flow, for me, you lose far too much detail which tells you about what the content is doing and the effects it is having on others.

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