Building the timeline
February 11, 2008 2:17 PM   Subscribe

I need a way for users to edit a timeline online. It doesn't have to be elaborate; it just has to allow a user to add an event to a history timeline. I'm too swamped to build my own solution. We're running IIS with classic ASP. Ideas for getting this pulled off?

The idea is that there's some timeline:

1968 - MLK assassinated
1972 - Watergate

A user can then add in another event:

1968 - MLK assassinated
1969 - Apollo 11
1972 - Watergate

The timeline in question is for the 40-year history of my institution.

The main option I'm looking at is an online document editor, like Writeboard or Google Docs. The problem is that these users who know the timeline we're trying to construct aren't necessarily savvy enough to use either one.

Another option would be to throw up a wiki, but the wiki of choice here is OpenWiki, which from an editing standpoint drives me nuts.

The last option is to throw some sort of editor on top of the Simile XML. This one worries me since I'd be looking at doing direct file editing on the server.

So... is there an online timeline editor I've missed? Anyone else pulled off something similar? Any other ideas?
posted by dw to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I think you'll spend more time adapting one of these things, than you'd spend building a simple web application. An application that does what you describe would be very simple to build in ASP. One database table to hold events, another to hold users (you might not even need that). You force people to enter an event into a simple form, and you provide a resolution mechanism in case two events have the same date (before/after chooser).
posted by me & my monkey at 2:23 PM on February 11, 2008

I have used TimeMap (in conjunction with its sibling product CaseMap), which was pretty powerful and easy to use. I used it in a collaborative setting within a single office; not sure how Internet-friendly it is, but it may be worth checking out.
posted by brain_drain at 3:14 PM on February 11, 2008

Actually I just discovered Timeline from MIT on today, but I haven't tried it out yet. I'm not sure if it supports editing, but it may not be hard to add that feature.
posted by brandnew at 3:28 PM on February 11, 2008

You could use Movable Type or something to generate the Simile Timeline XML files.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:21 PM on February 11, 2008

Or if you just want a text-based timeline like your example, you could just use Movable Type.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:22 PM on February 11, 2008

We're using Simile in-house by pulling the events from a database into simile xml using ASP (but you could do the same in another language). To add events you just need a basic data entry for for the user to populate the database
posted by figment at 4:29 PM on February 11, 2008

Hmm interesting.. wiki has progressed a fair bit. I would still really like one that I can view and edit, like all Audio-editors. Expand/contract (zoom if you will) in the scope window.

...but on your timeline..
posted by lundman at 4:50 PM on February 11, 2008

Hey, that MIT timeline isn't half bad!
posted by lundman at 4:55 PM on February 11, 2008

Try Sharepoint, it's free and allows you to maintain lists of events.
posted by mattoxic at 5:48 PM on February 11, 2008

I wouldn't worry too much about editing the Simile file with ASP code. Just check whether the file is locked before opening it, be sure to destroy your file handles when you're done, and test your code thoroughly. The only two operations you'll really be doing are add an entry and delete an entry, right? You don't need a full-blown editor, just those two functions on a password-protected page. You can even write a log of the changes in case anything gets messed up.

Or you could store it in a database and generate the Simile XML from that.

★ Or for bonus points generate it from a Google Spreadsheet and let the Google apps handle the login and collaboration for you.
posted by XMLicious at 8:51 PM on February 11, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks all.

My two biggest limitations right now are a complete lack of time to code something like this up (really, my to-do list is 20 items long and it's all due in the next three weeks) and my worry about these older folks not being very web savvy.

Ultimately, I want something that will end up in Simile Timeline. If I write to our DB, we have a boatload of storedprocs we've written up to spew XML, so I can just bind Timeline to that XML feed. Problem is that I need to get my DBA off his other projects long enough to write up the DB table. (We are really underresourced here.)

You don't need a full-blown editor, just those two functions on a password-protected page.

See, here's the rub: I can't make it pwd-protected since this is a public function.

I was hoping there was some third-party app I can just offload this to. Seeing there's not, looks like I'll just go ahead and block out the time to throw a form together, then try to finagle some time out of the DBA in the coming weeks. I'll just push something else out of the way.
posted by dw at 3:04 PM on February 12, 2008

See, here's the rub: I can't make it pwd-protected since this is a public function.

But that makes it easier, not harder.

It sounds like all you need is two pages:

1. A form with two, three, or four fields - Title of the event and the date, depending on how precise you want the date to be. When you press ‘submit’ it locks the XML file, adds the new event, and unlocks the file. (For extra safety use a try...catch...finally block to handle the unlocking.)

2. A page that displays the list of events with an "X" next to each one. If you click on the X next to an event it locks, deletes that event, then unlocks.

If you put this in its own app pool in IIS even if you do manage to write code with some horrible flaw you can stop and start these pages independently from the rest of the site to flush out file locks or memory leakage.
posted by XMLicious at 9:52 PM on February 12, 2008

I'm biased as I'm a complete drupal-fiend, but there's already an existing Simile timeline integration component for it. We used it to whip up something not unlike what you're describing for a client a while back, and the timeline portions of it took just an hour or two to set up. Probably longer if you're not familiar with Drupal. The relevant plugins were: (to add custom fields to content) (to manage date fields) (to display content matching specific critiera) (to pipe out the content into a Simile timeline display)
posted by verb at 6:47 PM on February 13, 2008

you should check out this web-based timeline tool - you won't need to do any coding whatsoever. build the timeline there, then just embed on your website. it's got a lot of wiki-like functionality and very easy to use
posted by kwanz at 1:17 AM on May 11, 2008

« Older Why does my cell phone break up when I have hold...   |   Oh, yeah - it's mammoth , baby! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.