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  • Adam Behringer

    Seattle, Washington USA

    Adam is the founder of BEEDOCS, an artisan software company that makes great timeline software for Mac OS X.

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Feedback Requested on Timeline Presentation

Thursday, March 13, 2008

As I plan future versions of Bee Docs' Timeline, it helps me to think of the foundational goals of the software. I like to think of the challenge of great charting software as being divided into two main problems...

First is the issue of allowing people to creating compelling charts in an intuitive fashion. Since I began the project back in 2004, solving problems related to creating timelines quickly and easily has been a core focus. Of course, there are still more improvements to be done in this area.

The other major challenge is the issue of presenting timelines to an audience. How can chronological events be presented in a way that makes the relationships between events clear, tells a story, and engages the audience?

Full screen icon for T2

I have begun to develop a framework for thinking about the different ways that timelines are presented. Basically, I have divided the presentation of timelines into four categories based on the way the intended audience is consuming the information:

  • DESK - Each consumer is sitting in front of their own computer. The distance from screen to viewer can be measured in inches. They are controlling, managing, and interacting with the content on screen. They and typically using a laptop computer. Content is usually published to this audience using the web or e-mail.

  • LECTURE HALL - Many people are viewing the same computer display at the same time. The display is usually projected on a screen and the distance from screen to viewer could be measured in feet or yards. The presenter is controlling the pace of the information and is likely to integrate other types of multimedia in the presentation.

  • LIBRARY - I am using "Library" to represent timelines that are shared in printed reports or published materials such as books or magazines. Print media is high resolution and portable, but non-interactive. Timelines are usually just a subset of the information in a printed work and must conform to size and layout restrictions of the rest of the printed work.

  • POCKET - Rich mobile devices such as the iPhone allow people to access timelines from anywhere at anytime. Audience members in this category want to access information quickly and simply.

Now, it's time for some good old fashion customer participation! I'm blogging all of this because I would appreciate your insight and feedback as people who create and share timelines. I would love to hear your answers to the following questions:

  1. Who is the main audience for your own timelines? (For example: yourself, university students, business clients, etc...)
  2. What do you want your audience to learn, understand, or take away from the information you are presenting? In other words, what does "success" look like?
  3. How do you present your timelines today? Does it fit into one of my categories above?
  4. In an ideal world, how would you present your timelines to your audience?
  5. What other kinds of materials / information are you presenting along with your timelines?

I look forward to your answers. Feel free to use the comments so that everyone can discuss, or send me an e-mail if you are shy. Thanks!

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Blogger ToddMarch 13, 2008 7:56 PM

I just recently started using Timeline. I've been looking for a while for program just like this. Thanks. As an attorney, I am primarily interesting in preparing presentations for juries and grand juries. As far as actual using the timelines in court, I guess am still a little old school. I don't like to present with the computer. I'd rather print out information - be it timelines or pictures - and show them on the overhead. I have found it easier to have the actual paper in hand for the juries to take back to deliberations with them. That leads me to the only issue I have with Timeline so far. If I prepare a timeline that is relatively long, I haven't found a way to print it effectively. It would be nice if the program would somehow scale the long timelines during printing and divide them onto pages or even divide onto multiple keynote slides. Or if there is already a way to do that, I just haven't figured it out yet. Overall, excellent program.

Blogger Adam BehringerMarch 14, 2008 10:49 AM

Todd - Thank you for your feedback!

Blogger Keith ClarkeMarch 15, 2008 2:43 AM

Adam, Im a new user (to Timeline & Blogger, so I hope this message works!). I'm glad I found Timeline and like what I see, so far.

My Timeline audience will change by subject matter & whether the usage is for work (e.g. project plans, proposals and results of findings, as an independent consultant) or other interests (e.g. my son's 'firsts', the repertoire for a charity band that I play in or changes to a classic MG car that I'm restoring).

Presentation would tend to be either via computer screen (presentation or web-site format) or embedded within a presentation or word-processing hard-copy.

I use mind-mapping tools intensively for work, in research & information management (especially MindManager for Mac). So here is another potential usage, inter-working & presentation environment. Indeed, I'd often prefer to export to a simple Timeline format than a more complex & formal project management Gantt chart tool/format.

Which leads me to some feature requests and/or perhaps features I've missed, so far:
1. Timeline import feature for MindManager or Freemind to automate Timeline creation from an outline with task dates attached (I'm not sure whether the simple OPML standard would be rich enough(?) The current set of Mind-mapping tools do not link with iCal, etc, so the current workaround to get data into Timeline is a bit circuitous.

2. Relative time axis option: where time is displayed relative to a labelled target date (i.e. t-2, t-1, 'Go-live', t+1, etc), with a choice of axis scale, rather than absolute dates. This would be a great help with prospective timelines for project plans and proposals.

3. Separate time-scales for multiple rows, to give the option to 'wrap' a single, long timeline across rows, rather than the default split of events across themed rows on a single timeline.

4. Deeper access to theme customisation - perhaps using a CSS-like set of attributes that the user can access under an 'advanced' formatting tab. This would allow Timeline themes to be aligned with over-arching themes of presentations, documents, etc.

5. Deployment as a RapidWeaver page-type. Drag and drop Timelines within a web-page that pick up the prevailing theme - that would be nice!

Sorry for the comment length but I hope some of the above proves useful. All the best with further developments of an already good tool.

Anonymous AnonymousMarch 15, 2008 8:14 PM

I absolutely agree with the first comment by the attorney:

Most of my timeline presentation needs would be delivered by a print out. I am a screenwriter, and as such, most of my delivery is done without me in the room. I perhaps have a one-page synopsis, the script itself, and if I can create something engaging (ala, a coolio timeline), I'll add that in for good measure. I'd rather let my documents do the talking for me, and as such, a clear, crisp printout where the events fall clearly into one page or another would help me tremendously. Here are my answers to your specific questions below:

1. Who is the main audience for your own timelines? (For example: yourself, university students, business clients, etc...)

My audience is typically producers, literary management, lawyers and writers in a group setting. For most of these, I wouldn't be there to demonstrate my timeline. In the group settings, I would typically demonstrate it myself on paper, as we don't have any computers, projectors or monitors at our meetings (we're low tech).

2. What do you want your audience to learn, understand, or take away from the information you are presenting? In other words, what does "success" look like?

I am typically demonstrating the motions of my story. Success means someone understanding what I am pitching. The information should help me "prove" my concept as a linear, functioning, engaging project, with the ultimate goal of them buying my story.

3. How do you present your timelines today? Does it fit into one of my categories above?

Perhaps your library criteria fits my description, but for the most part, the rest do not fit my presentation needs. Most of your categories require electronics and/or computers. In my world, I don't have time or the facilities to set up a presentation. I walk in to a group or someone's office, and hit the ground running or I will be walking out just as quickly, so giving them a timeline that we can walk through together is the fastest way for me to present. But most often, my timelines are given to my audience without the benefit of me being there.

4. In an ideal world, how would you present your timelines to your audience?

Ideally, I would present my timelines, one on one, on paper, in full color so they can see the images, the writing and the flow of time... and keep the presentation so they can stew on how much they're going to spend to acquire the project.

5.What other kinds of materials / information are you presenting along with your timelines?

I typically am pitching my writing, so I am usually handing out literary material before or after my presentation.

Anyhow, thanks for opening up your blog for feedback. I'm really happy I purchased your program!
Javier R.

Anonymous M. FlowerMarch 17, 2008 9:27 AM


I teach at Portland State University. I would be using Timeline in a couple of my courses. As I noted in an email to you, Timeline's a great app for showing the history of politicoscientific disputes. And the parallel rows is especially good for displaying different disputant's view/timing of controversies. I plan on placing timelines on my course websites. I join Keith in his suggestion about a RapidWeaver page-type. I can of course use the Blocks plugin for RapidWeaver to drop in a PDF image, but something more direct would be great.

Blogger JeremyMarch 17, 2008 9:57 AM

1. My main audience is graduate students studying history, for whom I've been developing timelines as a study aid (print-outs and PDFs) and a component of lecturing (via the lovely presentation mode).

2. Success for me is when students can use the timelines to simplify learning history - I've often found that visually organizing information can greatly help people internalize dates, people, and places as they try and more critically interact with history. With that said, I'm especially interested in features that let me present visually compelling timelines, thus I'm especially interested in the row feature, and the ability to include images - without, of course, sacrificing the ease of use that I've come to love with T2.

3. Answered that one above...

4. Ideally, I'd like to send the timelines out as PDF files so that students can print at their leisure. Some day down the road, I'll likely integrate them into documentation and lectures more fully (i.e. lecture hall / library). I don't think the pocket option will be useful for me in the forseeable future, as most students have laptops with them.

5. They often accompany a prepared lecture, small group tutorial discussion, and independent student studies (i.e. a textbook).

Blogger jwkMarch 17, 2008 9:29 PM

1. Main audience
I'm doing research work in history and am using Timeline to present lots of event information in graphical form for myself, examiners of my thesis, students, print publications.

2. Success looks like..
My audience gaining clarity about the chronological sequence of events, the relationship between parallel or overlapping events, people and places, and getting new insight into possible relationships due to proximity in time and space that they can 'see' from the timeline.

3. How do I present Timeline right now?
Onscree, in print and in 'lecture hall' mode.

4. ..in an ideal world...
I would be able to present in lecture hall mode clicking in events in a customised order, with the degree of customisation available for say Keynote or MS Power Point.

I would also be able to present a Timeline row of events, and then click on a tab on the top or bottom of the screen to bring up another layer over the existing row, to show relationships and parallel developments. I find that having multiple rows is not as effective as layers would be as the date lines end up occupying too much space on the vertical axis of the screen.

I'd also be able to zoom into denser portions of the row while the other portions zoom out, to show graphically that we're focussing on a particular period or event within the entire timeline. Sort of like what can happen with magnification on the OS X dock.

5. Other materials
At the moment it's just pictures and text. But it would be great to be able to insert short mpeg or sound files too. Also, sometimes I deal with significant historic documents that would be good to be able to show and zoom into, or expand from the Timeline picture, and then shrink again when we move on.

I'm a bit of a novice at all this, so thanks Adam for the great software, and for everyone else's comments about other apps that you're using. Look forward to the improvements!

Blogger RHMarch 18, 2008 10:08 AM

I use timeline in my research unit. It is very handy to trace processes, eg. what decision which governmental authority took when...
What I am missing are two things: first, a container field for file attachments like in MindManager (would be awesome), second, automatic scaling for printing plus printing of selected events is really desirable. If those two features were implemented, then timeline would be the perfect complement to a mindmapping software.

Blogger Adam BehringerMarch 20, 2008 9:20 AM

Thanks again for your feedback everyone! I also received a number of great e-mails on this issue.

I encourage anyone else who would like their voice to be heard to add a comment or send me an e-mail.

Blogger RichMarch 22, 2008 5:25 AM

Hi Adam. As you know, I use Timeline for jury presentations and my own trial preparation. For jury presentation I need to be able to compress a timeline into a manageable width. I would love to have a tool to jump over a blank period of a timeline so that it would fit in a manageable width. For example, if I'm charting the care over a 4 day period and nothing much of interest happens for 20 hours, why can't I just indicate, with a double jagged line, that time passed, but no recordable events occurred? In a recent timeline I did on a case I wound up with one page of blank paper and I couldn't compress the timeline into less than 4 pages. Very frustrating.
Rich Gurfein

Blogger timMarch 23, 2008 11:35 AM

Main audience: me, students, colleagues, reviewers

What does "success" look like?: People either learn how things fit together (for the past) or get a compelling feeling of an achieveable outcome (for a project timeline)

How is the tl presented?: Functions as a graph in Keynote, or word doc or email

How would you like to present it?: Interactively - much like Keynote. Current weaknesses are:
1. no control over timeline (log time, zoom some sections.
2. no addition of other graphics
3. limited text formatting
4. poor web export
5. weak print control and export (tab only)

What accompanies the timeline?: Sometimes the timeline is a detail, other times it is a framework, with users drilling down into detail in the line.

OpenID ErichvJanuary 22, 2010 9:02 AM

Hi there.
My main audience is clients.
I actually use the product to tell visual stories over time. But I hate being tied to a specific date.
I want:
This happened
then the next day this happened.
then this next thing happened an hour later.
then three weeks later, XYZ happened.
But I don't want the software to space it out in proportion. I want to control where to put the images.

Or for a project plan: we have a ton of public holidays in April here. I don't want a great big bloody gap on the timeline. I want to manipulate time!

The printing (sorry Adam) SUCKS.
I like to print the stuff out for my clients to have a look at. And I have an A4 printer.

So I have to go to printing bureaux to get the stuff printed, which is expensive and unecessary.

Also I want to be able to import stuff in a more intuitive way.
Your import options are great. Still, why can't i import from a text file or something intuitive?

And I need a LOT more control over fonts. I can't even bold stuff individually.
And I can't hide the date on the timeline.

And then finally: the date formats drive me completely scatty. If I write 1 Januar instead of 1 januarY then the software shouts at me.
Can't you build in some rudimentary intelligence so that it can work out what the date is?

It's great software. But it's really unfriendly and difficult to use. Things take AGES longer than they should.

And I still think $65 is a crapload of money to pay for it.

Your 3D exporting is a fantastic tool, really great.

Thanks for listening!

Anonymous AnonymousJanuary 27, 2010 7:22 PM

Not really sure if this is the right place to post this but I would like to make a couple feature request. I just started using Timeline today to help visualize major milestones in my projects (which get projected in meeting) create tool for quick and easy for these types of timelines. My request is that when using multiple rows have a hide feature so a EPM such as myself can have one doc with multiple trains of projects in rows but hide the rows not required for viewing with certain project teams.

Second request, this may be there but I haven't found it yet the ability to create a text box with notes or extra data that you place on the screen and a key for different colors used for timeline events.

Thirdly, I see you integrate with OmniFocus, what about OmniPlan?


Blogger MarshallDecember 19, 2011 4:36 PM

On January 27, 2010 7:22 PM Anonymous wrote:

"My request is that when using multiple rows have a hide feature so a EPM such as myself can have one doc with multiple trains of projects in rows but hide the rows not required for viewing with certain project teams."

This is a feature I need as well! For complex timelines of multiple events, it helps organize data in one place but allow the user to still elegantly show the required timeline relationships.

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