history, visualized: creating an interactive timeline via dipity.

With SUNY Oswego celebrating its sesquicentennial this year, we wanted to do some really neat stuff on the web. We started kicking around some kind of history timeline for the college and Rick, our resident web development genius, came across the simple yet powerful Dipity web application. The resulting interactive SUNY Oswego timeline has earned rave reviews.

With Dipity, you create a timeline, upload photos, caption them … and it’s just about that simple! Inserting the date automatically positions each entry. We’re running the basic version, which means the version on the Dipity site has ads … but we’ve also embedded it on our own site (sans ads). That said, we may yet ponder a paid version for multiple licenses … having easy-to-create timelines could be an excellent teaching aid for the academic area.

Those viewing your timeline can drag it back and forth to see different eras, click a photo to see more, adjust a bar to see longer or shorter timespans or tap little + signs at the bottom to see more photos in condensed time periods. Users can also view it in a flipbook mode. I find it user-friendly on both the back and front ends.

Developing our timeline was time-consuming only because of quantity and the desire to have something up quickly; I spent the better part of two days downloading hundreds of photos from Penfield Library’s Special Collections online archive, editing the photos, uploading to Dipity and creating captions. The Dipity part of the equation was probably the easiest part. In creating the timeline, you have thumb-up/thumb-down toggles that weight photos higher … meaning they are more likely to appear at the top.

Not many drawbacks I’ve found yet. Occasionally when I’d try to upload photos, I’d get a spinning icon that showed no progress, but I simply closed out of the interface box and tried again. Also, you’ll definitely want to crop and optimize the photos for the web first. We tried a beta version with larger photos and it was exceedingly slow. Now, with a couple hundred web-sized photos in our timeline, it moves pretty briskly. And alas, you can’t use an approximate time — like c. 1960s — because the site needs an exact year. Not ideal historiography, but you can explain in the caption.

All in all, a great and easy little program. Gathering content for it will take longer, but given the positive reaction we’ve had, I would highly recommend giving Dipity a try.

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1 Comment

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One response to “history, visualized: creating an interactive timeline via dipity.

  1. Brad

    Cool stuff. Two things come to mind:

    1) Timelines in floor exhibits were considered a real no-no at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago when I worked there in the mid-1990s, since they were always out of date by the time they were viewed the most. This tool, combined with a large touch-screen gives an infinitely refreshable timeline.

    2) Related to 1), this would be a great diary tool. Rather than creating the timeline post-hoc, it would be an interesting way to track the progress of an ongoing story or project (much as Dipity is doing with the Libyan conflict on their home page).

    Cool stuff.

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