Monday, January 31, 2011
We are now accepting Timeline 3D (v3) pre-orders for customers who first purchased our software from 2005 to 2008. If you are in this group, you should receive an e-mail invitation this week, or you can enter your license code to pre-purchase now. Buying a license now will give you immediate access to the beta version.
I know many of the readers of this blog are part of our class of 2008. That was the year that we first launched the 3D timeline feature. It was also the year we were recognized with an Apple Design Award ("Runner-Up Best Mac OS X Leopard Application"). Both events were important milestones for BEEDOCS and are special memories for me.
For those of you who joined us in 2008, I hope you enjoy the new upgrade. We look forward to hearing your feedback on the progress we have made over the past few years.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Our interactive 3D presentation feature was designed for storytelling to a live audience. Most timeline charts designed for web sites, touch screens, or printing are not simple enough to see across a classroom or a courtroom. Giving a three dimensional perspective to your timeline is the best way to show both the context and detail of your events during a presentation.
With that in mind, we've made some improvements to the 3D presentation interface that will make it an even better tool for storytelling with a live audience.
The first thing we have added is a new controller interface for navigating your presentation. In previous versions of our software, you had to learn keyboard commands to fly over your timeline presentation. While advanced presenters will still want to use keyboard, the new button interface will make it much easier for people who are getting started.
In addition to navigating your timeline, the controller lights up when there is a link or multimedia content in an event. For example, in the screenshot above the link button is lit up because the focussed event is connected to a blog article on the web. Clicking this button (or pressing "L") hides the 3D presentation and pulls up the website in Safari. Click back to Timeline 3D and your presentation will resume where it left off.
If there is a movie or audio file in your event, the media button will light up. Click this button (or press "M") to play the media directly in your 3D presentation. If the media is a movie, the presentation will zoom in so that the movie fills the screen.
One popular request from our customers is the ability to skip around a timeline presentation without passing through every single event. Our new bee-line interface allows you to do this intuitively. The bee-line shows your entire timeline as a series of tick marks. The focussed event is highlighted so that you can see how it fits into the entire context of your timeline. Hover your mouse across the bee-line to peek at a preview of all your events. When you find the one you want, a single click will take you there.
These new interface elements fade away when not in use, to keep your audience focused on your storytelling.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Yesterday, we started sending out Timeline 3D (v3) pre-purchase invitations via e-mail. Customers who pre-purchase the software upgrade will gain immediate access to the current beta. The upgrade costs $25 USD.
We are inviting people to pre-purchase in the order that they became customers, starting with those who purchased our software in 2005. After those folks have a chance to give us feedback, we'll extend the invitation to those who purchased in 2006, etc... We will extend invitations at a pace that allows us to fix the bugs that are found and the respond to the feedback we receive.
If you would like to check the year that you first purchased BEEDOCS Timeline, you can enter your license information in this web form and see.
There are a couple of very important things I would like you to keep in mind if you plan to try the beta:
This is beta software. Sometimes it crashes. Sometimes data can get lost. The intent of a beta is to get valuable customer feedback such that we can launch a stable public release a few months from now.
We reserve the right to make changes to the software that would impact timelines you create with it. In particular, the web publishing service is brand new and may experience downtime as we make upgrades. We also reserve the right to remove timelines that are posted to our web servers during the beta. Please don't embed the web timelines in high profile websites during the beta.
We will try to make the beta experience as smooth possible, but please don't use the beta for important work. Please don't send us panicked e-mails the night before a deadline asking us to fix something in v3. Our customer service priority is going to be customers using the shipping version of the software.
We would love to have bug reports on anything wrong that you come across in our software. The more detail we have about the problem, the quicker we can fix it. Here is a simple format for reporting bugs that I recommend:
What steps did you take leading up the bug?
Example: I dragged an image from a webpage in Safari (www.apple.com) and dropped it onto an existing event in my timeline.
What did you expect to happen?
Example: I expected a small version of the image to be displayed in the event.
What actually did happen?
Example: The image flew back to Safari and my event remains unchanged.
The hardest part of fixing bugs is often understanding exactly what the customer is seeing and then reproducing the bug on our own machines. If you follow the above format, it will really help us get things fixed quickly.
Hopefully that does not scare anyone away from giving the beta a spin. I just want to set expectations clearly. Elise and I have been using v3 to make timelines for several months now and, though the software has bugs, we think it is pretty cool and we hope that you will think so too.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Ever since I introduced 3D timelines back in May 2008, we have received many requests from people who want to use our interactive 3D presentations to display information that goes beyond events with calendar dates.
I am excited to announce to you today, that version 3 will allow you to chart anything in an interactive chart. Anything that can be represented with a number, that is.
When you create a new document, you will be presented with three timeline types to choose from. The first is "Dates & Times" which bases events on dates that could be circled on a calendar, or pointed to on a clock. Up until this point, every timeline you made was in this category. Examples include:
- 1/17/11 10:28 AM
- 10:28 AM
- 7 de agosto de 2009
- 590 B.C.
- January 17, 2011
Last week, I announced Geological Scale timelines. This type allows timeline spans in the billions, trillions, or quintillions of years. Examples include:
- 5 Billion BCE
- 1.3 Trillion
- 5,000,000,000,000,000,000 CE
The third timeline type, and the answer to last week's Guess the New Feature post, is called Quantities and it allows you to chart anything that can be represented with a number. It works by allowing you to specify a prefix or suffix for the numbers in a chart. Here are some examples:
- $150,000.00 USD
- Day 3
- Page #520
- Mile 253
- 60 Hz
- 1.52 ㎟
Note that number lines charted with the Quantities type will include a zero in the number scale. The date-based types do not because there is no "year zero" in the Gregorian Calendar.
I'd like to point out that any of these three types can be displayed in a 3D presentation or published to the web. Also, any of the three types can be customized with our new Custom Date Labels feature for even greater flexibility.
We are really excited to see what new kinds of charts you will make with this new flexibility!
Thursday, January 13, 2011
This is the application icon for the upcoming v3 release of Timeline 3D. Illustrated by Kenichi Yoshida.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Last week, I posted one of the new buttons from Timeline 3D and had you guess what feature it represents. I thought it was fun, and hopefully you did too, so here is round two:
Any guesses at to what this button does? I'll give you a hint: this button appears on the same panel as the Geological Time Scale button. I'll reveal the answer next week.
Computers can be frustratingly specific. To a computer, it all comes down to ones and zeros. Either something is on or it is off…
It is fairly easy for software developers to create a computer program where the end user can specify "draw this thing at this specific location." Those of us who make timeline software tell our customers "enter a date and we'll display the date as part of the event."
However, if you are creating timelines, it doesn't take long to realize that the world itself is not so specific. There are a lot of occasions where a specific date is not known, or an event represents an era, or perhaps an event has not happened yet.
With that in mind, I'd like to introduce Custom Date Labels in Timeline 3D.
In version 3, you will still need to enter a specific start date. After all, the computer needs to know where to draw the event. However, you can now override the display of the date to be anything you can imagine. Consider the following example:
Here is the edit panel for that event. Note that it has a specific start and end date, but that instead of letting the computer format that date range for display (it would have been "Aug 15–18, 1969"), I have chosen to Set Custom Date Label:
We will provide a lot of new flexibility for working with dates in v3, but if you don't find a format that works for you, you will be able to display the date anyway that you can imagine. Here are a few examples:
- ~500 BC
- Cretaceous Period
- Born 1960—
- Next Year
- Autumn 2005
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
I am pleased announce another new feature in the "it just works" category. For the v3 release, I have improved the way that date entry works. To explain the new technology, let's begin by reviewing the history of date entry in BEEDOCS Timeline:
When I first launched our timeline software back in 2005, I decided that allowing typed dates would be more flexible and more efficient than using a calendar picker. This method allows for BC dates and less keyboard to mouse transitions. This is how dates worked in BEEDOCS Timeline v1:
- Type a date in any USA style format.
- Date is displayed according to date format preferences.
This date entry method was flexible and simple for customers in the USA. It leveraged the natural language feature in Mac OS X so it was easy for me to implement. The main disadvantage was that it did not work at all for customers in other countries. This limited our software the USA market.
In December 2007, we released version 2 of BEEDOCS Timeline (for free). This version of the software was a ground up rewrite and changed many things including the way that dates were entered. The date parsing technology introduced is still the technology in use today. This is how it works:
- Choose a date format for date entry.
- Type a date in that specific format.
- Date is displayed according to date format preferences.
This new scheme (selecting the date format first) allows us to support date entry according to customer's localization settings. Now we can support customers anywhere in the world, which has been a huge business advantage for us. This is one of the only timeline products that supports localized date formats and over a third of our customers are outside North America now.
The disadvantage of the current design is that it is very strict and can be confusing for people. I came to realize this when I started to write the help documentation describing the feature!
The problem is that the date must be entered exactly like the format specified. If the format is set to "Jan 11, 2011" then the following won't work: January 11, 2011 or January 11. If you attempt to enter those a warning message will be displayed to let you know that the date wasn't entered according to the format you selected.
This is how dates will work in Timeline 3D, version 3:
- Type a date
Our new date recognition technology is flexible and simple for customers anywhere in the world. It works by comparing the date you typed to all the know combinations of settings in your language. It also is better at guessing the appropriate year if you don't type it.
So for example, lets say that an event has a date of "Jan 11, 2011" and you want to change it to "March 15." You simple type in "March 15" and the date will be recognized as March 15, 2011 and the format for that event will automatically change to hide the year and use the full spelling of the month. This works for any world date format that your System Preferences are set to use.
We still the same date format interface as previous versions, but these settings are now used only to control the date format after you have entered in the dates, they no longer need to be set before you enter dates.
Monday, January 10, 2011
Thanks to those of you who left a comment on my Guess the New Feature blog post with the mountain icon last week. There were some very creative guesses!
The new feature enabled by this button is one that many of our education customers have requested. We call it Geological Time Scales.
The current version of Timeline has a potential date range of 1,400,000 BC to 2,100,100 AD in one second increments. This is enough flexibility for most of you, but some customers want to chart longer time spans for the history of universe, dinosaurs, the collapse of our solar system, etc…
In version 3, you will be able to select "Geological Scale" when you create a new timeline. These timelines will support a range of approximately 9 quintillion BCE to 9 quintillion CE in year increments (a quintillion is a million trillions). Or said another way: 9,000,000,000,000,000,000 BCE to 9,000,000,000,000,000,000 CE. Those are some big numbers!
To help make sense of numbers that large, we built some new formatting options. For example, instead of listing a year as 1,234,000,000,000 you might choose to format it as 1,234 Billion or as 1.2 Trillion.
I am looking forward to seeing what new timelines that customers create with Geological Time Scales!
Thursday, January 06, 2011
A button from version 3 of Timeline 3D:
Can you guess what new feature this button represents? Leave your guess in the comments and I will reveal more details about it next week.
Special thanks to the amazing and talented Kenichi Yoshida from Japan, who illustrated this button and many other user interface graphics in the current and upcoming versions of Timeline 3D.
When I write software, most of the time I am coding for customers. I'm responding to bug reports and feature requests or trying to dream up new features that will win new categories of customers. However, from time to time I code for myself and work on things just because they make me happy. This is one of those features…
There are best-practices for how to write date ranges but these are hardly ever followed by software programs. Here is the date section from Wikipedia's Manual of Style. In fact, I've never actually seen a software program that follows these practices before.
Let me give you an example. If you are writing a date range that goes from January 4, 2011 to January 5, 2011, the correct way to typeset it is not…
January 4, 2011 – January 5, 2011 (incorrect)
…but rather like this:
January 4–5, 2011 (correct)
It takes up less space this way and is easier understand. Since our software is all about making things easier to understand, I am proud to announce that Timeline 3D v3 will automatically format date ranges with the correct date range style. Also, the correct style is also retained when publishing timelines to the web.
Here are some more examples:
|Current Version||Upcoming (v3)|
|Sep 25, 2009 – Oct 26, 2009||Sep 25 – Oct 26, 2009|
|June 4, 2010 – June 21, 2010||June 4–21, 2010|
|January 2011 – June 2011||January–June 2011|
Undoubtably there will be other features of the Timeline 3D that generate more attention for us, but this is one of the features that I am most personally proud of. Especially because I believe that we are the first software program to do it.
PS - I've been pretty enamored with typesetting as a craft since reading "The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst which is one of my favorite books on any subject. Highly recommended for anyone who appreciates details.
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Our upcoming web timelines are decidedly simple in layout and navigation. They are designed from the ground up to function in a small space such as an iPhone screen or embedded in an article.
They are also designed to be intuitive to your audience who perhaps has never encountered an interactive timeline on the web before. For example, all the events can be accessed without zooming or scrolling.
However, simple doesn't mean that they can't be beautiful as well.
We were very fortunate to work with Mani Sheriar, from the Bay Area, who designed some beautiful looks that can be applied to your interactive web timelines. Here is a sneak peek of one we call "Vintage Shop - Sepia."
Simple and beautiful.
I had a few e-mails today asking about pricing for the upcoming version of Timeline 3D (v3).
First a bit of historical context... In May 2005, we launched the first version of Bee Docs Timeline and the price varied between $50 to $60 USD. Since that time, we have released 48 public updates. Most of those updates included at least one bug fix and one new feature, though some releases have been more dramatic than others. Skim the blog and our movie section to see what we added in those releases.
So far, all of those updates have been free except for one. In May 2008 we released the 3D Edition and charged existing customers $25 to add the 3D features. The price for new customers has been set at $65 USD for the past several years.
The 3D upgrade was a big success. We received a lot of positive feedback on the pricing and almost every active customer upgraded to the 3D edition (even though we were still maintaining a "standard" edition at that time).
With that in mind, we are planning the same pricing structure for the v3 release. The upgrade for existing customers will be $25 USD, the price of a new license will remain unchanged at $65 USD.
There is also a web hosting component of the v3 release... At first, my plan was to have Timeline 3D publish timelines to a server that you maintain (FTP site, etc...). I was reluctant to be in the hosting business. However, over the past year it became clear that the best user experience for the vast majority of customers is only possible if BEEDOCS hosts the timelines.
Hosting the timelines ourselves allows us to do things like one-click publishing with faster uploads. For example, multimedia processing is shared between the client and server to optimize publishing times and quality. We also host the images and video in a global content distribution network to achieve a faster audience experience than would be possible for most customers to provide who are running their own web servers.
Hosting timelines is a variable cost to us based on the traffic to our site as well as amount of multimedia in the timeline. We are determined to keep ads out of our products, including the videos, so that means that we will have to charge for this hosting service, especially for customers who have millions of viewers. One of the goals of the beta period is to study our costs associated with hosting timelines so that we can set the hosting prices fairly.
My expectation (subject to change) is that we will have a free level of web hosting that will work for the majority of our customers. If you are posting several timelines each month, have a few hundred viewers, and don't use video / audio in your timeline events... my goal is to keep this kind of hosting included in the price of the initial software license. There will be no ads.
However, if you are creating a timeline with videos in it that is going to be embedded in the homepage of CNN, we are going to need to charge for that. We are still measuring those costs and will aim to have a very simple pricing structure that is fair based on your usage.
Hopefully that helps to answer the pricing question for now. As we learn more, I will announce it here on the blog.
Tuesday, January 04, 2011
We are putting the final touches on version 3.0 of Timeline 3D. In the coming weeks we will start to get it into the hands of some of you as part of a limited beta program. Access to the beta will be based on the date you first purchased a software license from us. Expect a full public release in a few months.
One of the major new features of v3 is the ability to post timelines to the web. The timelines are designed to be easily integrated into websites and blogs.
I am pleased to show you the first timeline published with Timeline 3D, embedded right here in the blog:
While you are waiting for us to ship v3, I'd appreciate it if you could kick the tires on the timeline I posted above and let me know if you encounter any bugs. You can send your feedback to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.