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?
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:
- Who is the main audience for your own timelines? (For example: yourself, university students, business clients, etc...)
- 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?
- How do you present your timelines today? Does it fit into one of my categories above?
- In an ideal world, how would you present your timelines to your audience?
- 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!