Move over Dipity! AVE, a new interactive timeline editor to put on your radar
McLuhan Project by ABC
All I can say is IT’S ABOUT TIME! I’m excited to introduce you to “AVE” (ABC Visualisation Editor). As I envision it, this may very well do for timelines what Soundslides did for audio slideshows. Read my interview with Sam Doust, Creative Director of Strategic Development at Australian Broadcasting Corporation, to learn more about this tool and when you can expect to test it out for yourself.
For a little background: I remember coding numerous clunky timelines in Actionscript back in 2008 and continuously thought how major improvements could and should be made to timeline interfaces. Along came Dipity, Timetoast, and a slew of other programs all trying to solve the same problem of displaying linear data in an aesthetically pleasing fashion, but they all had their drawbacks.
After being inspired by the Arab spring timeline I featured last March, II guest blogger Paul Franz did his research and came upon “The Explainer Project,” a team of innovative developers in the Strategic Development arm of the Innovation Division at ABC. Since then I got in touch with Sam and conducted the following Q&A via email. Enjoy!
Q. What is your rationale behind building a new timeline editor?
A. After building a bespoke timeline for another project, we returned to the idea of templating this approach to visualising data sets. The editor arose out of that work – a way for producers, journalists, anyone and especially without developer skills to quickly assemble complex data structures and output them in immersive, captivating ways. It was an exercise in building a powerful tool to explain complex data sets.
Q. What are the features of the editor?
A. It allows you to curate data and visualise it in different ways. The taxonomy priciples are based around Events that can occur in time, as in timelines, or as milestones, as in projects, or more non linear occurrences such as genus types, for example. These Events have media assets associate with them, in the forms of text, audio, video, images, tags, web links and deep links. For example, one can append any video deployed on the web (eg You Tube) and it will be encapsulated as part of the event’s presentation. This basic unit of the Event can then be sorted by caregory and group and linked by tags to create various meanings for the data.
By example, in tracking events that took place in the first week or two after the Japanese earthquake earlier this year, categories delineated concurrent events into those relating to nuclear, geophysical, economic and rescue efforts. The visualisation of these events allows for the audience to quickly see clearly relationships between different types of events occurring concurrently in time.
The editor stores these events and their media assets and the taxonomy around the events that the author has created. This data set can be output in a number of different ways. We presently allow for two visualisations – a card array and a road.
Q. Do you have plans to make the editor publicly available?
A. Yes, we’re planning to make the editor publicly available as an AIR application. We’re also looking at open sourcing the project, so that people can create their own visualisations of data coming out of the Editor.
Q. What is the price?
A. When available, it will be free.
Q. What is the workflow like? Time to completion? Programming language knowledge?
A. No programming knowledge is required to use the Editor. Including installation, the basics of using the Editor can be taught in under half an hour. An extended knowledge of the Editor is aquired over time. For instance, the approach influences the way one thinks about data and its presentation. That’s why using it is best described as curating, because it builds upon the existing skills of journalists, storyteller, or anyone wanting to present data, and makes one think about the concurrence and relationships between events on a deeper level. Work-flow varies depending upon the project. There is data entry and relationship creation, then there’s visual design (which is most often catered for immediately by design themes, but is also catered for with a comprehensive WYSIWYG editor), and then there’s publishing. Presently, the outputs we’ve created are SWF and PDF files, which although visually rich are beginning to feel a bit anachronistic, so we’re looking at HTML5 versions too. And part of the intention of open-sourcing the application in the future is to encourage diversity in visualisations.
Q. What are some example projects that have used the editor in the past?
A. (Note these are all data sets coming out of the same version of the Editor – one can publish the same data sets in either or both visual style simply by choosing the style of output):
Â· Marshall McLuhan: A Centenary in Media
Â· 2010 in Review
Â· Antarctic Summer (scroll to bottom of page)
Â· A History of Redfern’s Block housing estate
Â· A History of Spaceflight
Q. Do you envision your editor to be for timelines what soundslides is for audio slideshows?
A. We do think it’s a very powerful tool for building complex, highly detailed timelines (capable of spanning minutes, days, months, years, decades, centuries, milennia, non-linear, etc), and also because it treats data and visualisation separately, as well as allowing for currency, in terms of being rapidly updatable.
Q. What improvements do you envision building into the editor in the near future?
A. If we open source it, we hope that improvements will come out of the community. I’m not sure we’ll be able to continually improve upon the Flex/AIR framework as we’re working on other things, but in terms of the thinking that’s gone into how you structure and present data, it already has very solid foundations which a community could build upon.
Q. Anything else you want producers to know about your product?
A. Have a look at the examples and when AVE is available, have a go – it’s a powerful tool for creating timelines and context whatever the subject is. Also, visit the Explainer Blog on Tumblr that details our broader work “Explainers.”
Other posts that might interest you:
Tags: AIR, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, AVE, Flash, interactive, Sam Doust, timeline, tool, visualization editor