TimeFlow was the first product of the lab, released in 2010 before we even had a name.
It was originally imagined by lab director Sarah Cohen to solve one of the most obvious tool deficiencies in investigative reporting: temporal analysis, or maintaining the chronologies that create a narrative. It was designed to help illuminate key events in stories, organize materials for books and keep track of long-running stories like court cases and natural disasters.
With financing from a donor to Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy, we asked Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg, currently the leaders of Google’s “Big Picture” visualization group in Cambridge, Mass., to help us. They created TimeFlow, an investigative tool for timelines and chronologies, which elegantly baked reporters’ work flows into an easy-to-use, visually revealing tool.
Since its release, TimeFlow has been used by reporters to tease out the story of a Russian corruption scheme and treatment of brain injuries among soldiers in Iraq. It’s now considered a pretty standard answer to the common reporter’s quest for a tool to create chronologies and timelines inside the newsroom.
Now it’s ready to move to the next phase.
Updating and extending TimeFlow
To date, there are 20 open issues in the application’s Github log. It is also difficult to export the data into a format that can be readily published by other programs, such as ProPublica’s TimelineSetter or MIT’s Simile project. There are also a few technical issues on recent Windows platforms that we’d like to resolve. Addressing these issues would let even more people use TimeFlow in even more settings.
Porting TimeFlow to the Web
TimeFlow was built in Java for several key reasons: It didn’t require installation of software on company machines — it could be run off of a thumb drive if need be. It could accommodate large datasets, up to about 10,000 points. And, not least important, it didn’t require the lab to create a hosting service.
But these decisions limited its use in teams, require the right versions of Java on reporters’ computers, and mean that timelines can’t be easily published or shared. We’d love to look into retooling at least some of the tool for Web-based timelines.
SAMPLE/TESTING DATA TimeFlow features several built-in examples for use in testing.
DEVELOPER RESOURCES TimeFlow’s developer’s guide