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Timeline + Map Web Tool Comparison

I prepared this brief for a pair-taught course on monasticism, in which the professors wanted to explore using chronological, locative, and narrative data from historical, ethnographic, archaeological, literary, and visual sources to facilitate sophisticated comparative analysis. In particular, they hoped students would make connections and distinctions between phenomena that were non-obviously juxtaposable. They wanted to present this data visually on a website, using both a timeline and a map, with some navigational latitude available to site visitors.

Best Options

I’ve bolded the most salient items for each option.

Neatline

Pros

  • Allows points, lines, and polygons for representing locative data.
  • Date ambiguity representation
  • Sophisticated object metadata
  • Baselayer choices
  • Active development, at an academic institution
  • Self-hosted

Cons

  • Nontrivial learning curve
  • Sophistication accompanied by sophisticated interface that can be distracting/annoying for students. Requires solid explanation and clearly defined metadata requirements
  • Interface impermanence
  • Standalone, no embedding

Representative Example:Ibn Jubayr

TimeMapper

Pros

  • Google spreadsheet for data store (with implication of using Google Form for student contributions)
  • Data decoupled from presentation
  • Wide range of media embedding
  • Responsive design
  • Embeddable in other sites, such as WordPress
  • Good with BCE dates
  • Simple setup and use

Cons

  • Interface impermanence
  • Limited customizability, though can be deployed to Heroku
  • Uncertain development, sponsored by not-for-profit

Representative Example: Panhellenic Competition at Delphi

Timemap.js

Pros

  • Multiple options for data, including both Google spreadsheet (with implication of using Google Form for student contributions) and local
  • Data potentially decoupled from presentation
  • Self-hosted
  • High level of GUI customizability
  • Baselayer choices (though more limited than Neatline)

Cons

  • Old code
  • Interface impermanence
  • Mobile interface unknown
  • Embeddable as an IFRAME only, usability unclear

Representative Examples: Google spreadsheet with additional arbitrary data points, Themed data

MyHistro

Pros

  • Entries commentable
  • Dedicated iOS application for mobile use
  • Clear data export to CSV, KML, and PDF
  • Embeddable
  • Easy to use points, lines, polygons
  • Variable placemark colors
  • Can ‘play’ the timeline like a slideshow
  • Semi-automatic semi-multilinguality

Cons

  • Tightly coupled data and presentation
  • Privileges linear reading, though not a requirement
  • Unsophisticated design
  • BCE dates don’t seem to get calculated and stored accurately

Representative Example: Early Mesopotamia

Commonalities

In all cases, you’ll have to identify distinct start and end dates rather than using century-level notation. The individual dates don’t have to be more precise than a year. BCE dates are often added by prepending a negation sign before the date (e.g. -200 is 200 BCE).

Additionally, it always needs to be said that at any moment, development on any of these might cease or changes in browsers and student browser usage might render the code unusable. Even on the options being actively developed, the development team might make a material change in the interface, altering substantially how it looks and works. Other technological or cultural changes can’t be ruled out.

Other Options

Most other choices focus on locative storytelling, constraining a visitor to moving along a linear path:

Published inAcademic Technology

One Comment

  1. […] Tech talks are also a great place for sharing links and resources, and here are a few of those that were being passed around: I copied and handed out a list of Jane Hart’s Top 100 Tools for Learning 2014, a collection that’s updated every year and is a pretty widely circulated in educational technology circles (see how many of the top 20 you use in your teaching!) Through the process of working with faculty and Edward O’Neill, on the Educational Technologies team over at ITS, I just discovered this great Yale AITS list of teaching tools that includes categories for active learning, online collaboration, video and more (thanks, Edward!). And there in person at the tech talks we were lucky to have a very familiar face here at the CLS, Trip Kirkpatrick, who’s now doing great thigns with ITS and the newly formed Center for Teaching and Learning. We’re hoping that at an upcoming tech talk he’ll be able to demo and talk us through some neat ways to integrate maps and timelines into the language classroom; you can get a sneak peek into some of the possibilities in this overview blog post.  […]

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