Preceden Timeline Maker:”The Easiest Way to Make a Timeline”

With a big history unit coming up in Term 1 for the 5/6 teams, I’ve become a bit obsessed with making History timelines. I’ve already reviewed Meograph earlier this year and posted my multimedia Meograph timeline on Australian History for your viewing. I’ve since discovered a simpler, more linear and cutback timeline creator that I can see having both advantages and disadvantages over Meograph. I see myself using both for different reasons.

Preceden Timeline Maker has been around since 2010 but this is the first time I have discovered it. Unlike Meograph, which is more of a multimedia storytelling tool with timeline capabilities, Preceden is very much a timeline first and foremost. As you can seen from the annotated screenshot above, it has an easy to follow layout that presents as a clearly labelled timeline of events.

The timeline consists of layers and events. The layers are a good way of categorising the events, especially useful when dealing with an historical period with many different themes. The layer titles are placed at the beginning of timeline left of screen but stay anchored and visible as you scroll across the timeline.

Events can be colour coded, either automatically or manually. If the event is a particular moment in time, it is represented by a coloured dot placed along the timeline in the date/time zone it belongs to. If it is an event that lasts over a period of time, it becomes a coloured horizontal bar that stretches across the timeline from starting date to finish date. Each event occupies its own vertical space so as you add more events, the dots or bars fill the page from top to bottom. If the event name is short enough, it fits inside the bar but if it is longer than the bar duration, it is located to the right of the bar. By allocating each event to its related layer, the events appear in that specific section. If you designate the event as a milestone, a vertical line stretches from top to bottom, acting as a visible dividing line between other less significant events.

At first glance, Precenden appears to lack multimedia functionality, with the emphasis on the timeline itself. Images and links, however, can be added ( which I’ll describe later) and they can be viewed by ‘mousing over’ the event, appearing as a temporary popup box. Any notes you add for detail also appear in this pop up box.

In the top right corner, you will notice a zoom feature. This is a useful feature that alters the appearance of the timeline. You can zoom in or out of the timeline from as accurate as seconds to as wide ranging as 10 billion years, meaning you can represent any time period in historical records. There is also the auto function which fits the whole timeline to your viewing window.

At the bottom on the right hand side are other functions worth noting. First, there is the embed instructions, which will take you to the embed code so that you can embed your timeline into your own website or blog. Note that the embedded timeline. as you’ll notice in my example below, only presents the timeline itself – the popup info window does not work in embedded timelines, nor do you see the event list. You should include a link to the original for full viewing. It should be noted that any changes that you make are automatically updated in the embedded timeline.There is also a option to rearrange the layer order, through a simple drag and drop UI. There is a function for importing CSV files (instructions included) so that you can create data in a spreadsheet offline, then import for visual publication. You also have PDF, Image and CSV export options.

One final option to note is the Rename function. While not obvious, this is where you will find the delete option if you want to get rid of your timeline. Obviously, it is also where you can edit the name of the timeline.

When you add an event the dialog box below appears.

Here you input the name of the event and have the option to alter the colour of the dot, text or bar with the popup colour editor to the right. A preview is shown directly below the text. Next you allocate a layer to the event and enter the start and end times. Finally, there is a Notes box where you can enter additional information about the event, insert an image or hyperlink.

Images can only be inserted from the internet – you can’t upload images to the program. Read the FAQ section for instructions but basically you copy the link to the image from its original website location ( it should be Creative Commons or your own images only) and insert exclamation marks before and after the URL ( as seen in the example above). To insert a hyperlink, you use other simple code, again described in the FAQ section. It’s a bit clunky but simple enough once you get the hang of it.

The final function in the event dialog box is the Advanced feature, which gives you the option to make the event a milestone, as described earlier.

As well as the timeline itself, a list of ordered events is also published below the timeline, as seen in the screenshot below.  This is where you can easily view the images, the information about the events and access the hyperlinks without mousing over the timeline. It is also where you access the editing features and bring up the event dialog box to make any changes.

While I am obviously impressed with the multimedia ( audio narration, video/image, map, timeline) features of Meograph, I also like the simplicity and timeline focus of Precenden. I am particularly impressed with the control over the timeline ranges from seconds to billions of years. This makes it useful for a lot of time based Mathematics possibilities as well as the usual History emphasis that timelines get used for. It also makes it easy to compare the duration of different events and put time periods and events into perspective, when comparing, for example, the 100 years war to the First Gulf war. the life cycle/span of a turtle compared to a fly or the time frame of human existence compared to the whole of Earth’s existence.

Precenden is free to use, with one caveat – all of your timelines are viewable (but not editable) by the public at all time, even before they are finished. You can view all public timelines from the Shared Timelines link at the top of the screen. You will seen timelines with one event and others with 100s. As long as you don’t include any private info in your timelines, this shouldn’t be a reason to avoid it. They make their money by offering a private timeline option with the paid account ($59 a year)

Teachers can share their account with students by activating Teacher mode in the account settings. It gives you a code to give to the students. This is not as good as it sound though, as with this option, the children are limited to only five events per timeline, hardly enough for anything worthwhile. The usual Under 13 restrictions are in the Terms of Use. However, I emailed the creators for clarification and they said my Grade 5/6s could use it as long as no personal information was provided.

It works on an iPad for creating. The scrolling and mouse over viewing functions don’t though.

I can see a lot of benefits to Preceden and can see myself using it in a lot of curriculum areas in the future. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Below is an embedded view of my incomplete History timeline to show you how it looks embedded in your blog, You can view the full timeline here to see how the mousing over, zoom and scrolling works.

Make a Timeline at Preceden.com

Meograph – 4 Dimensional Story Telling Web 2.0 Style

What I love about Web 2.0 apps is the simplicity. Bloated desktop apps like Office and Photoshop, with their hundreds of menu items and toolbars, are powerful tools but become difficult for non techies to handle. Web 2.o tools, on the other hand, are focused on specific purposes, allowing them to be streamlined and simple enough for anyone to use.

Meograph, a relatively new tool ( released in July, 2012 and still in Beta form) is one such simple to use but still powerful web app. It sells itself as a “4 Dimensional Story telling” app. In a nutshell, it allows you to tell stories through (1)images/videos, (2)narration,  (3)maps and a (4)timeline (hence the 4 dimensions) OR WHO/WHAT, WHEN and WHERE. Now this could be done using a variety of software options but what I love about Meograph is that the whole process only involves 8 simple steps, which I am about to outline for you using the above screenshot and some simple instructions. There is also a video embedded below that provides a demo of the tool.

  1. ADD A MOMENT. Once you have set up your FREE account and created your first Meograph, click on +ADD A MOMENT. This brings up the simple data field box for you to input the required information.
  2. THE DATA FIELD BOX. Here you can see the 3 fields to input information. WHEN, WHERE and WHAT. Type in the year or specific date (in MM/DD/YYYY format), the location the event took place (be specific for correct location on map) and information about what happened. The information can be a single sentence or at least a whole paragraph – I haven’t tested its limits but some of my entries have been over 100 words. Once you have added the information, it becomes part of a list of dates. If you add another Moment that occured before your last entry, it will automatically move the moment into the correct chronological order.
  3. LINK. You can add a link to related information by clicking on the Link button and typing or pasting in a website address. The link appears between the image and timeline in a black band. The website page name appears but if it is a PDF web link you only see a diagonal arrow icon.
  4. TEXT. The information you input into the WHAT field is displayed above the image in a simple text box. If you want to add extra information, you can edit the text here instead of the small WHAT field.
  5. MAP EDITING. You can change the Zoom level of the Map by clicking on the CHANGE MAP ZOOM button. You will get a familiar Google Maps slide scale to enable you to zoom in or out for your desired result. That is the only editing you can do – you can’t drag the map around or move the placeholder.
  6. MEDIA. You can upload an image or embed a YouTube clip using the two buttons provided. You can only add one or the other – not both. You don’t paste YouTube embed code; just the page link. You can resize the image and move it around. With the YouTube clip, you can select specific sections of the clip so that your viewers don’t have to view the whole clip when you are only referring to a specific part. This is a useful feature – I only wanted to show 3 minutes of an hour long documentary on YouTube for my History Meograph below.
  7. NARRATION. You can record narration for each moment to help tell your story more effectively. The length of your narration determines how long the moment plays before it moves on to the next moment. Without narration, the Meograph moves from moment to moment almost instantly. The maximum length of narration for each moment is 20 seconds.
  8. MAP VIEW OPTION. You can choose between Google Map or Earth view for the Maps in Meograph. What isn’t in the screenshot above is the option to include or exclude Lines connecting placeholders as you move from moment to moment.
  9. SAVE. Once you have finished your Meograph or you simply want to stop your editing for the day, you simply click the DONE AND SAVE button which returns you to the ready to play Meograph page. You can always click on the Edit button if you want to continue to add or make changes.
  10. PLAY CONTROLS AND TIMELINE. At the bottom of the Meograph is the Timeline and controls. If you want to simply view the Meograph, hit the Play button and it will progress from Moment to Moment. The timeline is like a video progress bar that has the dates displayed instead of the minutes played. There is a time display on the far right. If you want to manually control the progress of the story, pause the video and use the FF/REW buttons for greater control. This is recommended if you want to check out the linked information.
That’s all there is to it. ( One more thing – it has share and embedding options so that you can add your Meograph to your own website/blog, as I have done, or post it directly to Twitter, Facebook and other popular Social Media sites like Pinterest, Google+ Delicious and StumblUpon.) If you want to see first hand how to use Meograph, you can check out the tutorial video below.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

While I have found Meograph to be a very useful and simple to use storytelling tool, there is room for improvement. Of course it is still only in Beta so there are still glitches to the tool. Since the creator actually asked me to do a review, I will list my ideas and criticisms here. I’m not sure if these can all be addressed but hey, worth an ask.

  1. The Timeline. The only way to move from event to event is using the video controls. I would like to be able to drag the timeline dates across like you can on videos so I can move more quickly to a specific time or event without laboriously going moment by moment. This is probably not a big deal for quick stories but in a big presentation like my History Meograph it is needed. Meograph is being aimed at the Education and Journalism markets so there will come a time when I’m not the only one making really long meographs!
  2. Maps. Would like to be able to move the map around rather than just zoom in and out. Would like to move the placeholders too. Some of my locations were a bit inaccurate and a quick drag of the place holder would fix that problem.
  3. Text. Not a big deal but possibly some simple textformatting tools wouldn’t go astray for greater emphasis – size, colour, bold, italic would be enough. Then again my opening paragraph did talk about Web 2.0 simplicity vs Software bloat, so no drama if not done.
  4. Full Screen view. At present, the Meographs are a touch small to view. A Full screen option like Youtube and other video sites offer would make it better for viewing, especially for whole class viewing on a screen or iWB.
  5. Image AND Video instead of OR. Again not a big issue but sometimes I was faced with the choice of using video or image. Would have been nice to use both. Same goes for….
  6. Multiple Links.  From an Educational perspective, it would be good to link to multiple references to verify accuracy of information.
  7. iPads. You can watch it on an iPad just fine but editing is very difficult. Sometimes I managed to add new moments but often the buttons didn’t work. of course that is common with a lot of web 2.0 tools ( but not all). Be interesting to find out if it can be improved.
Everything else is Beta based Bugs. Sometimes it slowed down to a walk, especially when adding additional text. There were times when images or videos wouldn’t load and I had to close the browser and restart a session. There was a bit of a lag when inputting Where/When/What Data at times as well. Sometimes there was inaccurate map placements but that may well be Google Maps’ problem ( Apple’s IOS maps aren’t alone in location errors).
Having said all that, I have found MeoGraph to be a great addition to my teaching toolbox. Below is a yet to be completed but still lengthy Meograph I am putting together for my Grade 5/6 teams who are teaching Australian History this year. I see a lot of possibilities for History, Geography, Biographies, place and time based narrative investigations in this tool. I would like to hear from teachers about whether they would use or have used Meograph.
(Word of warning: Like most Web 2.0 tools, the Under 13s get a raw deal here. However, I can’t see why you can’t set up a class account controlled by you to avoid COPPA problems-Meograph’s Terms and Privacy policies are inconclusive here and the site itself doesn’t seem to have any inappropriate material easily accessible once logged in. It appears possible to use one account on multiple computers – I’ve tested it with my Meograph and even added different moments from different computers logged in at the same time. Meograph might not agree with me here but I’ve said it)