Timeline 3d, Version 3 Initial Impression and Interview

BEEDOCS has been hard at work and recently released version 3 of their stellar timeline application, Timeline 3d. This release makes building and using timelines even easier. For instance you can now publish an interactive timeline straight to the web (or YouTube), add movies and audio, and even put a soundtrack to your timeline.

Navigation of 3d timelines also go easier with new tools and views to let you jump around in your outline. There is a lot more so go check it out. I’ll do a more thorough review soon.

In the meantime, I took a few minutes to talk to Timeline Developer Adam Behringer.

Adam, you took a lot steps to improve the sharing of timelines with this new version. What prompted that?

When I create the first version of our timeline software in 2005, my focus was on meeting the needs of the person creating a timeline. For example, the initial inspiration was lawyers who needed to create professional looking timelines quickly and with minimal fuss.

However, over the past six years my focus has shifted towards the needs of the end audience. For example, if a lawyer is showing a timeline to a jury, what does the jury want to get out of it? What do they need to see in order to make a good decision?

In version 2, which was released in 2007, the focus was on presenting timelines in real-time to an audience that was viewing the presentation from a distance. That is why the 3D feature was developed. I am proud of this emphasis because many new timeline products have appeared in the last 5 years, but we are still the only one that works well for live presentations.

In version 3, the keyword that drove the design and development was “storytelling.” Specifically storytelling to an audience that is not watching a live presentation. I improved the video export features so that they could use music, narration, and event video. The other major new feature is web publishing of interactive timelines.

The point of the new features is that the end audience can derive more meaning from the story being told. There are a lot of products that can collect data and display it in eye-catching ways. There are very few products that actually increase the understanding of the audience in any meaningful way. That is what I am striving for and that is what prompted the new sharing features. 

I really like the new controls for 3D presentations. How did you develop them?

The “bee-line” is a bar code like interface that I have been designing and experimenting with for the past three to four years. The original inspiration was about data density. I wanted to see if I could show the relationships between several hundred historical events in a few square inches. I dreamed of timelines that function like a photo in a news story instead of being just a full-screen application. In other words, web timelines that would sit along side and supplement other story-telling content. Making timeline content understandable and easy to navigate in a very small space is necessary for this to work.

Though these experiments started before the iPhone had launched and before anyone knew about the iPad, it turns out that the interface works really well when using a finger to drag over the bee-line. So, we had a user interface control that worked well for the web and for mobile devices. The last step was to bring it to our full screen 3D interface. It happens to work really well there too because it allows skipping around to events in real-time, which is something our customers had been asking for.

We also introduced a control panel for 3D presentations that gives a visual interface to the functions that previously required a keyboard. To develop those, I listed out the functionality required and made a video of myself pushing all the buttons on the dashboard of my car. Then I sent it Kenichi Yoshida in Japan, and he designed a beautiful button panel.

What was your most requested feature request and how did you address it in Version 3?

I try to balance my efforts between the needs of three groups of people. First, I try to make sure that the experience for my current customers is always improving. Second, there is a group of millions of people who are not yet customers but could be. I am trying to figure out how to improve the software such that they will want to become customers. Finally, I spend about a third of my time working on things that make me happy.

For current customers, the most requested features were web publishing and event videos.

For “not yet” customers, we added support for timelines that go beyond calendar dates. Now people can create charts based on any type of quantity or measurement. I believe this will allow the software to find more uses such as project management, screenwriting, or scientific applications.

What is your favorite new feature?

For me, I wanted to increase the emotional appeal of timeline presentations. Though most of our customers are using timelines for things related to their work, some of my favorite timelines have been created by customers for weddings, funerals, birth announcements, etc… I wanted to find ways to make these timelines more cinematic.

Some of our customers with film editing skills have added musical soundtracks to their timelines using software like Final Cut Pro which have turned out wonderfully. I wanted everyone’s timelines to come alive through sound, even if they don’t have audio engineering skills. Can you imagine a documentary without sound and music? Well, then why should timelines be silent?

I’ve added a new feature that lets you drag and drop a song onto the timeline and when you export the timeline as a movie, it automatically fades in and out the music as appropriate to blend with the other audio elements in your timeline.

What is next for BEEDOCS?

We have taken a few years to develop these new features in relative secrecy. Now it is time for us to put them out there and listen to customers to see how they respond and how they use these features. Developing a software product is literally a conversation and it is our chance to listen and learn now.

We’ll make new plans based on what we learn.

Thanks Adam!

Full Disclosure: BEEDOCS sponsors MacSparky.com.