Make a Timeline — Wonder Tools

Share memories or sum up the past with the best of these visual tools

Creating a visual timeline is one of the best ways to summarize key past events. In this Wonder Tools post, I’m spotlighting some of the easiest and most effective ways to create a timeline you can share.

Here’s why to make a timeline

Timelines are great for visually summarizing a trip you took, a project you’ve completed, a family history, or a series of significant events. Once you create a timeline with one of the tools noted in this post, you can share a link in a social media post, present the timeline in a Zoom meeting, or embed it on a website. Or print it, export as a PDF, or turn it into a slide deck.

Use Timeline JS to make your timeline. It’s one of the best free tools for creating a compelling, interactive timeline to share online.

With TimelineJS, a free tool from the Northwestern University Knight Lab that works on nearly any platform or device, you can create a professional-looking publicly-viewable timeline in 15 minutes. Here’s how in 5 simple steps. It’s not new, but it’s still one of the best timeline creators.

You can embed videos from YouTube and online images into your timeline. That’s handy if you’re creating a historical timeline or focusing on subjects about which there’s a lot of visual material available online. (Like NASA launches, food trends or a rock band).

Here’s an example of a new timeline I started creating for this post: Shiny Objects in Journalism Tech History, about the persistent dream of silver bullet solutions for journalism sustainability. (Reply to this post if you want to collaborate on completing it). Here’s another timeline made with this tool about the history of wine and one celebrating the life of Whitney Houston.

Limitations

  • Few options for customizing the look of your timeline.

  • TimelineJS requires you to use a Google Spreadsheet template. If Google changes how its sheets work, timelines could break.

  • TimelineJS is completely free, so support for the service is limited.

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Timeline 3D from BeeDocs

Timeline3D is terrific for creating 3D timelines. It’s free to make and present timelines from your Mac. A $15 upgrade lets you print, export a PDF, or export a movie or slideshow version of your timeline.

Start by adding a few events — all you need is a series of event titles and dates. You can also add images, videos or PDFs.

The iOS app is also great. It’s free to create and present a timeline from your phone or tablet. Or present out to a big screen with AirPlay. To print or export a PDF, movie or slideshow there’s a $10 in-app purchase.

Limitations

  • Works only for Mac and iOS devices

  • Free version has limited features

  • Software is updated sporadically

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Other good ways to create timelines online

  • Canva’s timeline templates are compelling and easy to adapt. Create a free static timeline following this simple series of steps.

  • Venngage has a well-designed interface for creating and customizing a timeline. It’s free to try out for a few designs, then pricey.

  • Visme is another slick source of great timeline templates, though the free version is limited.

  • Adobe’s Spark Suite makes it easy and free to edit a timeline template. Pick a design then change its title, dates and background. Then share a link, download an image or PDF, or add it to your Google Drive.

Tips on making compelling timelines

  • Pick a subject you love. Create one related to one of your passions. A short history of someone or something you love. A band, artist, or author you like. Or a pet. Or the evolution of a personal project.

  • Keep it digestible. Include five to 15 events. Fewer and it may feel incomplete. Too many and it’s exhausting.

  • Visuals are crucial. Associate each event with an image. If you don’t have your own images, use free ones from Unsplash.

  • Write descriptive event titles. Viewers may skip detailed event descriptions. Make each title word count. Use vivid short phrases.

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