Two months ago, I used an online tool called Dipity to create an interactive timeline about reprogrammed stem cells. It was picked up by the Guardian, Boing Boing, Nature Medicine and Science, discussed in two flattering posts by John Rennie, and discussed on a trifecta of journalism analysis sites: the Knight Science Journalism Tracker, Nieman Journalism Lab and the Columbia Journalism Review.
In response to comments about whether anyone would actually pay for stuff like this, I mentioned at the time that I was talking to an organisation about creating similar timelines as a freelancer. That organisation is Nature, and I’ve just produced my first timeline for them. It charts the progress of the ongoing Fukushima disaster, pulling together Nature’s coverage, which I already credited as being among the best in the market.
Having now done two of these, I think I’m starting to get a sense of how to use Dipity. I reckon that it works best for subjects where there is a solid story, and whether the passing of time is crucial to the telling of that story. In the case of the stem cells, you could watch a fast-moving field as it grew and unfolded. In the case of Fukushima, you can see a difficult situation grow and unfold in a similar way. The scale – years in the first, and days in the second – are different, but the sense of a developing sequence of events is important.
I’ve been tempted to do others since the original timeline, but they all seemed to be a thematically related but otherwise unconnected collection of events that was shoehorned into a timeline format. A slideshow or a even a list of bullet points would have sufficed. I’m still working this stuff out, but it’s fun to have an ever-growing playground of toys to experiment with at no cost.