refracting mapping: timeline

Our group initially wanted to creating a visual map of the Morrill Building. Our goal was to map the different floors in a mapping tool (for example, StoryMap JS) and then layer in changes to the floor layouts over the years. However, we quickly ran into two major obstacles. StoryMap JS does allow you to create a map using your own image. However, you can not layer these images. Layering is, instead, an more complicated option that is available with a more elaborate mapping plugin from ESRI. This is a wonderful tool, but it uses preexisting maps. If you want to map the inside of small building or something that requires you create/supply your own map, layering is not an option.

With our initial attempts foiled, we decided to switch to a timeline tool instead. We tested several timeline tools, but eventually settled on Timeline JS. This is a very easy to use tool. Users have access to a spreadsheet template in Google Docs, they adapt the spreadsheet to reflect their dates, info, and files, then they connect it to Timeline JS. The Timeline JS site simply generates an embed code which can then be embedded in blog posts, on web pages, etc.

This makes this tool very easy to use and the results are visually rich and appealing. However, we also encountered problems with this final piece of the process. The latest free WordPress accounts do not allow users to embed any code they would like into their WP posts/pages. We had our timeline ready to go, but our free WordPress wouldn’t let us post it! That’s why this page is actually on another website. We were able to easily embed the timeline, however we had to have a paid or hosted WordPress account in order to do so.

Each of the obstacles we encountered represent some barriers to access for various potential users. Users with free WordPress.com blogs will have issues. Users who need to map and layer items that are not already “mapped” in major mapping softwares (like Google Maps) or which aren’t part of a traditional geographic map will also encounter issues here. There are work arounds to these problems, but they point to the ways that norms and privileges continue to be coded into DH and DH related tools.