Timescape visualizes data in space, time and relationship

Data visualization is essentially an alternative way to tell a story. A new platform called Timescape aims to extend the ways in which we can visualize our stories by allowing organizations to sift through information on a map.

The result is a geo-temporal relationship map. That means, one can plot the events of, say, the Arab Spring as locations on a map and see how they relate to each other both in causation and in time. The ability to visually parse the data in these multiple ways illuminates alternative narratives surrounding those events, allowing people to see which events precipitated others and where they fit in with each other in space and time.

Timescape base visualization of the Arab Spring.
Timescape base visualization of the Arab Spring.

Timescape visualizations appears as orbs on a rotatable globe, with dashed lines connecting relationships and colors connecting types of events. You can also easily search through other nodes like country, actors, political campaigns, et cetera — all of which link back to an original source such as a news story. While this platform is amenable to uploading data sets, the complexities of narrating history — like what events really caused other events, or determining which actions are considered “milestones” — require a collaborative and human hand to be effective.

“To build more subtle relationships,” said Timescape CEO and Cofounder Somnath Ray, “that’s where we feel collective human intelligence can play a critical role in how narratives are built together.” Multiple users can collaborate on the platform.

Multiple people can collaborate from multiple sources to build a narrative map.
Multiple people can collaborate from multiple sources to build a narrative map.

Ray, who earned a master’s in design and computation form MIT and worked on the institute’s Smart Cities project, sees Timescape as a resource for storytellers like journalists or global organizations seeking to understand their impact on the world — organizations “who are creating global impact but don’t have a viable way to show that impact,” Ray said.

Currently Timescape is exploring projects with the likes of The World Wildlife Fund for Nature, think tank The Aspen Institute , the LEGO Foundation and nonprofit Save the Great South Bay.

While other multimedia story-building platforms exist — Storify, for example — this is the only one that visualizes space, time and relationships. On Timescape, events are shown, essentially, as a flow chart, a timeline and a map in one.

The success of this platform really depends on how people use it to tell their stories and what types of stories they tell — whether that’s linear movie plot lines or extended world histories. It also depends on how quickly and easily users can attach data. Currently, the interface, though beautiful, can be glitchy and is only available in private beta to organizations that request an invite.

Ray said a public version of the platform will be ready and available in December.