How to do the Tiki-Toki

Plug-and-play digital timeline development

Timelines are particularly helpful in digital humanities projects for temporal organization and visualization of data and content. For example, situating data on a timeline creates context by locating each entry within a larger visual narrative. But timelines can be fiddly to create and even trickier to make graphically appealing. While there are a number of tools available to help you create digital timelines (Neatline.org, among them), Tiki-Toki appears to be the front-runner in terms of aesthetics and customization, but also in the ability to embed various kinds of media with plug-and-play ease. As such, Tiki-Toki bills itself as a tool for creating “beautiful, interactive timelines” with ease. Here, we’ll find out just how easy it really is.

First off, you’ll need an account. To get started, head over to the Tiki-Toki homepage. For the purposes of this tutorial, we’ll be working with the web app. (There is a desktop version of this software available; however, beyond the demo version, you must purchase it.) For the web app, there are a few account options to choose from, including a basic, free account that allows you to create a single, shareable, interactive timeline. That’ll do for the purposes of this tutorial, but if you want to, say, embed your timeline on your own website (as opposed to viewing it via a unique URL), you’ll need one of the premium accounts. The premium options also allow you to create multiple timelines (the free option allows only one), collaborate on timeline design with other users, and avoid advertisements. The “Teacher” education account may be of particular interest to instructors as it has the option of creating up to 50 accounts for students to generate individual, sharable timelines (though, based on a handful of second-hand reports, this iteration of the system is perhaps a bit clumsy and lacks a bit of necessary control over the pupil’s accounts). These upgrades range in price from $7.50 per month to $25 per month depending on the kind of account you choose. Take your pick, do your thing, and set up the account of your choosing. I’ll wait here.

Got it? Good. We’re on our way.

Once you’re signed up, you can go to your account’s page to start creating your first timeline. It’ll look something like this:

Follow the prompts to fill in the form. You can edit them later, so don’t worry too much about locking yourself in.

Once you’ve entered all of your basic information, create your timeline by pressing the “Create new timeleine” button at the bottom of the form:

3, 2, 1, blastoff.

Now, you have a blank timeline. Congratulations. Let’s create your first entry on your timeline, or as Tiki-Toki labels it, a “story.” After creating your new timeline, you should have a screen that looks something like this:

That handy “Timeline Admin Guide” window has some helpful hints and explanations. It can be useful for the first story or two that you create, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a bit easier to navigate the screen if you tuck it away. To do so, click the help button on the bottom of the admin tab (but never fear, you can bring it right back by pushing the help button, again!).

Go ahead and press the “Create New Story” button in the admin panel by opening the tab titled “Admin” in the top right hand corner of the screen (as long as you are logged in, this is always available here). Note that this admin panel is where you will make any changes to your timeline — anything from adding a new story to adjusting the appearance of the whole timeline to finding the code to embed your timeline on your website. In the boxes, enter the necessary information for your story. Choose a title (1), the beginning and ending date for the story (2), a brief description (3), and, if you so desire, a link to an outside source (5). You also have the option to categorize your stories (4), which I’ll detail in a moment.

As a side note, for the purposes of this tutorial, each of my entries on the timeline documented here cover only a single day, as my data are comprised of single articles and are chronicled by the day on which they were published. It should be noted, however, that you can set each entry or story to span a particular length of time, as needed.

Once you save (6) your story (which you must do each time you create a new story), it should appear on your timeline as shown below:

One story down. Repeat as needed to add your remaining content, up to 500 stories.

If you press the “More” button in the story’s tab, it opens the story in a larger window so the user can view the entire description. If you included a link to an outside source, the “Find out more” button allows your user to follow the link. This isn’t immediately apparent, so I’ve alluded to it in my description to help guide the reader (while this is a little clumsy to do for each story, it does give the opportunity to allude to where it is the link will take the user).

It’s worth noting that the date of your story does not appear in the expanded entry. If needed for emphasis or additional context, you can include the date in the story’s description.

Congratulations, you’ve created a basic timeline. Repeat the previous steps to enter more stories (up to 500 per timeline) and you’re well on your way.

But wait! There’s more.

I briefly mentioned the option for associating your story with a category. Categories allow you to color code and organize your stories. For example, I am categorizing my stories, which are articles dealing with Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, by designating each as “press,” a “feature,” or a “review,” based on the article’s content. As indicated by the white arrow below, the category will appear as a color coded tab on the top left corner of each story box. To set your categories, select the admin panel, choose the “Categories” tab, and enter your title (1), choose the color you want to identify with that category (2), select the layout (3), and save your selections (4). Each category you create will appear in the categories section of the admin tab (5) where you can edit or delete them as necessary.

1. Enter a title for your category. 2. Choose a colorway. 3. Choose a layout. 4. Save your category. 5. Each category you create will be listed here.

However, you have options with regards to how you display your stories. See below, for example, how each category is represented in strata and the stories that belong to that category appear within its respective color band. For particularly crowded timelines, this arrangement can help reduce clutter and emphasize categorical groupings you designate.

Your readers also have the option to zoom in and out of your timeline for easier viewing — the slider on the bottom of the screen indicates where they currently sit on your timeline.

To change the arrangement of your timeline, choose the settings tab in the admin panel. Here, you can adjust the overall settings for your timeline, including start and end dates, default spacing, and, as we are discussing, the mode of viewing. Select the view type menu and you’ll see four options. To create categorized strata, choose “category bands.” Simple enough, no? In this same tab, you can also set a default zoom and choose the date on which your timeline will begin by default.

Other options for viewing your timeline include coloured stories, in which each story box takes on the color designated to its assigned category, and duration, in which each story spans its set duration on the timeline (this works best if your stories are varied in length).

Another viewing option includes a 3d zoom that has a distinctly Star Wars-esque, “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” feel to it. The parameters for this option can be set by choosing the 3d settings tab within the admin panel and then activated by selecting the small circle in the bottom left of the screen (this is also how you revert back to the 2d view from the 3d view). In 3d, the timeline will look something like this:

Note the small white circle in the bottom left hand corner of the screen (here it says 2d). Selecting this will allow you to move between the 2d and 3d iterations of your timeline. To progress through the timeline, toggle the gray slider across the timeline at the bottom of the screen.

That pretty much covers the basic basics, but there are numerous additional functions for embedding additional material such as RSS feeds that create each post as a new story on your timeline, as well as options for incorporating images and YouTube videos into your timeline. In these instances, the Timeline Admin Guide that we hid away earlier in the tutorial is quite helpful.

But once you’ve created such a lovely, media-rich timeline, what to do with it? How do you share it with the world? Tiki-Toki offers a few options for sharing your timeline. Though, if you are using the free account, the only way to share your timeline is with its unique URL in the browser’s address bar. You can copy and paste this link into whatever media suits your project.

Below is the timeline chronicled throughout this tutorial as viewed from the user’s perspective via the unique URL. The user can manipulate their view of the timeline by selecting the settings menu (1) in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen. And the 3d function (2) mentioned previously, is available in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.

Note the menu across the top of the timeline. This is present in the iteration of the timeline born of the URL but it is not visible in the embedded version.
The settings available for the user to manipulate include a search function, the ability to limit the categories visible on the timeline, the view type (above), and the spacing of stories and the zoom of the timeline as a whole.

With a premium account, however, you also have the ability to embed your timeline on a personal website. In doing so, you can choose the dimensions, set the default viewing mode, and fix the parameters by which your users may adjust their viewing experience. Should you care to, you can view the timeline chronicled here embedded in its parent project webpage. (Be warned: it and the whole site are currently under construction!)

Whether using a unique URL or the option to embed, be sure that you set your timeline to “Public” viewing mode. Otherwise, your users won’t be able to view your product. To set your timeline to “Public,” enter the admin panel (1) and choose “Advanced Settings” at the top of the “Settings” tab (2). Within the Timeline Advanced Settings window, scroll (3) until you see the drop-down menu for Privacy settings (4). Be sure this is set to “Public” if you want your to be timeline sharable. If you want your timeline to be visible only to those logged in to their Tiki-Toki accounts, choose the “Private” option in the drop-down menu. You also have the ability to password protect your timeline by selecting that option in this menu.

Be sure to scroll through the features in the Timeline Advanced Settings panel, as they are a bit hidden. There are a whole host of other options buried within, including slider and header customization, font customization, and date formatting.

You can now share your aesthetically pleasing, media-enhanced timeline with the world. And that’s what it’s all about.