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Tool of the Day: Knight Lab Releases Free, Easy Interactive Timeline

Newsrooms seem to have forgotten about a simple, tried-and-true form of storytelling: the timeline.

We inundate our readers with infographics and Storifies of the news. They are the cool, new kids on the block who are supposed to encourage audience engagement. There’s nothing wrong with these new ways of telling in stories — in fact, I love them. But the only time we hear about timelines nowadays is when it is preceded by the word “Facebook.”

Enter the Knight News Innovation Lab‘s newest tool, “Timeline.” It’s a free, open source tool created by former New York Times staffer and current Medill faculty member Zach Wise. With Timeline, users can tell stories via an attractive, easy-to-use timeline that incorporates the latest tweets, YouTube videos, Flickr photos, and even Google Maps.

“The tools that already exist on the web are almost all either hard on the eyes or hard to use,” Wise said in the Knight Lab’s announcement. “Timeline is an open-source, JavaScript and HTML/HTML5 based tool that creates elegant timelines.”

Have I mentioned that you don’t need to be a programmer with a degree in computer science to use Timeline? Building a timeline can be as simple as putting the data into a Google Docs spreadsheet. If you are a coder/developer type, however, the tool’s “normal data format” is JSON. So everyone is happy.

A Google Docs spreadsheet template is provided.

The only thing you need to run Timeline is your own website or at least access to one. You can add it to your site in three, very clearly labeled steps. If you’re not very tech-savvy and don’t want to host the data files yourself — or have no idea what that means — don’t worry. A workaround is included.

The site has four examples showing how the tool could be used to tell stories ranging from celebrity stories (“Whitney Houston 1963 – 2012“) politics (“The Republican Run-Up“) to tech news (“Revolutionary User Interfaces“).

The project can be found on GitHub and was created and built by Vérité.co, as a project of the Knight Lab. The lab is hosted by Northwestern University. The site is also looking for feedback.

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