September 09, 2009
By Elisabeth Grant
The Google News Timeline, introduced by Google this past April, creates a visual and interactive chronological view of recent and historical events. It pulls data from Google news, digitized magazines and newspapers, blogs, sports scores, Wikipedia, and Freebase.
The default view of the Google News Timeline displays just two built-in queries (pulling from Wikipedia and Time magazine), but users can create their own queries, then mix and match them to generate results. Queries can range as broadly as any search keyword, from the scholarly (the Fort Pillow massacre), to the entertaining (Jack Nicholson movies), to the curious (baseball news photos).
But really the beauty of the Google News Timeline is not what you can search for (since these topics can be found through any search engine), but how those searches are presented. Users can zoom in or out on results, drag the timeline forward or back, and change the span of time represented to days, weeks, months, years, or decades.
While the display is engaging and interesting, the content could still use some work. As a PC World review explains, the “grasp is extraordinarily wide but not very deep. If you want to search newspaper content, for instance, you’ll find all sorts of stuff from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the St. Petersburg Times. If you want anything from the New York Times and the Washington Post, though, you’re out of luck.”
A Tech Crunch article points out other deficiencies, like, “You can also switch the calendar to view stories by day, week, month, year, or decade. But why not by the hour or the minute?” The article goes on to point out some other issues, but likes the concept, commenting that the timeline format is “visually helpful.”
Could the Google News Timeline be useful in historical research or in the classroom? This article by Michael Hait and the referenced video walk-through by Lisa Louise Cooke, suggest the possibility. But visit the Timeline, throw in a few queries, and decide for yourself.