Pandemic timeline as animated dot density map

As a lead-in and backdrop to a timeline of the past year by The Washington Post, an animated dot density map represents Covid-19 deaths. “Every point of light is a life lost to coronavirus.”

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Coronavirus infection timeline

The timeline for a new infection isn’t the same for everyone. Some never show any symptoms. Some recover quickly. Some take months to recover. So, for The New York Times, Katherine J. Wu and Jonathan Corum describe the timeline of a coronavirus infection with a set of illustrative charts instead of using exact numbers.

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Evaluating timeline layouts

To show events over time, you can use a timeline, which is often marks on a line that runs from less recent to more recent. But you can vary the shape. Sara Di Bartolomeo and her group researched the effectiveness of different layouts:

Considering the findings of our experiment, we formulated some design recommendations for timelines using one of the data set types we took into account. Here is a list of recommendations regarding timeline readability:

  1. Use linear vertical timelines for situations which require fast data lookup.
  2. Avoid spiral timelines when the task requires fast lookup.
  3. If you use a more creative, expressive shape, such as a spiral timeline, also include a tutorial or visual cues to assist the user in learning and understanding.

Also: it “heavily depends on the context.”

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Timelines to make you feel old

One of the best ways to feel old is to look to your past and realize how long ago it was. Wait Buy Why demonstrates with a bunch of timeline splits. For example: “Remember when Jurassic Park, The Lion King, and Forrest Gump came out in theaters? Closer to the moon landing than today.

I feel like there was an xkcd comic about this, but the closest I could find in my notes was a tweet from Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Just an FYI: The year 1980 is as far in today’s past as 1947 was to 1980.”

Update: From xkcd, there was one on Movie Ages and another on Timeghost. (Thanks, @ilarischeinin and @CultureOverTime.)

Yay. We’re all old. Eventually.

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Timeline of Earth

Here’s a fun piece by Andy Bergmann that shows the timeline of Earth. It’s a long-ish, straightforward scroller that vertically spaces significant events during the history of the planet. You start with the formation of Earth 4.6 billion years ago and work your way up to present day.

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Get all caught up with The Avengers using this timeline

It’s been a decade since the first Iron Man movie, and some 30 superhero characters later, we arrive at a two-parter Avengers finale. But maybe you lost track of everything that happened leading up to this point. Sonia Rao and Shelly Tan for the Washington Post got you covered with a filterable timeline. Focus on specific stories, characters, and franchises. Select “block spoilers” in case you still plan to watch something.

I used to watch all of the Marvel movies, but then I had kids. I’ve seen one in five years. So this is right up my alley.

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Visualizing nonlinear stories

Many stories don’t follow a linear format. There are flashbacks, or multiple timelines run simultaneously. Story Curves is a research project that tries to visualize the back and forth.

Story curves visualize the nonlinear narrative of a movie by showing the order in which events are told in the movie and comparing them to their actual chronological order, resulting in possibly meandering visual patterns in the curve.

The main part is that top timeline, which shows story order on the y-axis and movie running time on the x-axis. So if you were to visualize a movie that was linear, you’d see a straight line running from the top left corner to the bottom right. For nonlinear movies, like The Usual Suspects, you get a line that fluctuates.

In case the format looks familiar, you might recognize it from The New York Times. They used it to show the nonlinearity of movie trailers, and that piece motivated the Story Curves work. [via @eagereyes]

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Timelines show Star Wars character interactions

Return of the Jedi

Remember when xkcd charted character interactions for fictional stories? Inspired by that and the upcoming Star Wars movie, Katie Franklin, Simon Elvery and Ben Spraggon made interaction charts for every episode of the galactic space opera.

The one above is for Return of the Jedi. The horizontal axis represents time, and each line represents a character. The vertical bars show when the corresponding characters appear together.

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A timeline of history


“I wish there was a timeline browser for all the historical events documented on Wikipedia, from the Big Bang up to present,” you thought to yourself. Well look no more. Histography, a final project by Matan Stauber at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, is an interactive timeline that lets you sift through events and eras. It's updated with new events on the daily.

Each dot represents an event, and the horizontal axis represents its place in time. Categories in the left sidebar let you quickly filter to literature, war, inventions, etc. A scrollbar on the bottom highlights specific sections of time, such as the Stone Age, Renaissance, and Industrial Age.

When you filter, the dots that don't match roll away as if you were working with a table of marbles, further reinforced by the sound of colliding balls.

As with many things Wikipedia data-related, this only accounts for things on Wikipedia and not all things that ever happened in the history of the universe. So naturally, there are more recorded events as you move up to the present.

But with this in mind, this is a fun one to poke at. I want one of those interactive tables with this piece running on it. It'd be the ultimate coffee table book.

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Evolution and timelines, 2

I have noted before (Evolution and timelines) that any history can be represented as a timeline, but a timeline diagram does not necessarily show an evolutionary history. Unfortunately, this does not stop people from putting the word "evolution" on their timeline diagrams.

One ambitious example is The Evolution of the Web. Two images are shown below, which illustrate some of the transformational history of web browsers and technology, depicted as complex timelines. This represents complex transformational evolution (see The evolutionary March of Progress in popular culture), rather than variational evolution.

The full majesty, and complexity, of the timline can be seen at the interactive version linked above.