Thursday, 14 January 2010

Time Line Continuum

Working with time and especially the specialised work with time in a computer software is a big challenge. A number of posts on this topic featured on the blog earlier with some really amazing approaches to the problem. The MIT open source code for timeMap is a good example.
I have earlier discussed time representation problems often along the lines of narratives. I believe that narratives offer a helpful tool to organise time. Generally the time is simply represented as one continuous line, however while using narratives this could be extended by using multiple strands. In this method then the intersections and interlinks suddenly need a special attention. The twists and bends of the story become the defining elements and drive the visualisation. The time-space cube has to be critically reviewed regarding the one dimensionality of time it represents, but to some extend the Hagerstrand aquarium substitutes this with the spatial dimension it adds to the visualisation.
The main aspect of my interest in narratives and the potential to use it for time representation is also the aspect of repetition. I am thinking very much of the narrative in everyday life and the repetition of the personal routine. With the help of the narrative it becomes possible to integrate a lot more than the bare time information. It enables to refer to the repetition, the importance of stability and the joy of the element of surprise.

Image taken from Continuum demonstration clip / screenshot.

I have come a cross a new tool for time visualisation developed at the University of Southampton by Paul André, Max L. Wilson, Alistair Russell, Daniel A. Smith, Alistair Owens and M.C. Schraefel. It offers a clean interface to explore the data with some good features for quick modification of the data displayed e.g. the right hand sliders to adjust level of detail, tick box to turn on and off information sets and overall time span sliders that can be split to compare data. It also supports non temporal relationships which are represented by yellow lines.
However, beyond the clean interface, neat features it does not offer a completely new approach. It is still based on a single time line and it is based on a singular hierarchy. Nevertheless the beautifully integrated level of zooms make it a very useful visualisation tool. It is built to be integrated into a website and accepts XML or JSON data input where the child dependencies can be defined. For a demonstration see clip below. There is also two papers on the project HERE and HERE.

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