When it comes to creating Web-based timelines, Webalon’s Tiki-Toki (Free) stands out for crisp aesthetics and dexterous media support. Charting a course between the über-accessible Dipity (Free) and full-featured (desktop-based) Aeon Timelines ($39.99), Tiki-Toki seeks to balance elegance with capability, customization with ease of use. For the most part, it succeeds. Creating a timeline is fast, and populating stories with media from SoundCloud, Vimeo, YouTube, and Flickr (Free, 4.5 stars) is as easy as copying and pasting links. Once you have completed a timeline, you can share it, print it, or save its contents. Sometimes the Tiki-Toki gets in its own way, burying features and demanding that users take circuitous paths to others. Administration of classrooms, in particular, will gray hair. When it comes to the building attractive, media-rich, Web-based timelines, however, Tiki-Toki deserves notice.
Entering the Classroom
Tiki-Toki offers tiered pricing ranging from a free baseline account to a $20 per month Silver account. I decided to test what I considered the sweet spot, the Teacher account, which runs $100 per year (or about a little over $8 per month). Suffice it to say that the Teacher account looks and feels like the basal account, but adds the ability to share more timelines (up to 25) with more users (up to 50 associated Pupil accounts), without ads.
Although the home screen is a far from welcoming (see the first image in the slideshow for this review), it is highly functional. Certainly, I would welcome some sort of spreadsheet import, especially given that the site supports CSV exports, but all it takes to create a timeline is a title, a date range, and introductory text. From the home screen you can also customize the color scheme, associate a background image or introductory image, and supply more text. In my eagerness to create my timeline, two hundred years of Puritan writings and sermons (hold onto your shawls, ladies), I skipped non-essential steps—and I am glad I did.
The Friendlier Side
Tiki-Toki gets friendlier once you begin working from the timeline interface. I found that almost everything I did to my timeline relied upon the ADMIN tab. Using Web links I associated both an Intro image (an image that accompanies introductory text when you first open a timeline) and a background image. I also changed my color scheme to match that background image and supplemented my original Intro text. For text-heavy timelines, be advised that Tiki-Toki is not a particularly text-savvy. Although the software supports HTML formatting, without editing controls it is preferable to write in a word processor. The other annoyance with which you will contend is that every time you make a change, Tiki-Toki will prompt you to Save or Revert.
By default, Tiki-Toki runs with training wheels: Help text will appear as you cursor over menus. At first this is—as one might expect—helpful, but I soon found that I needed the screen space. Although most features are managed via Timeline settings or Advanced settings, Tiki-Toki the Help toggle in My Account—more on this shortly.
From Stories to Categories
Tiki-Toki calls every event on your timelines a Story. For each Story you can add a title, start and end date, relevant text, and a link (for example, where available, I linked to full-texts of writings). Once you click Save—always a key step—the Story is created, and two new options appear. You can add more text (Extra Info) or include media (Story media). Associating media is as easy as copying and pasting a URL. Timelines support YouTube and Vimeo videos, SoundCloud audio, and images from just about anywhere, including Flickr. The only real requirement is that media be hosted elsewhere.
After I had added a couple dozen Stories to my timeline, I realized that my texts were stacking atop one another and becoming illegible. A new feature, Categories, helped me to manage complexity. I added Categories for each of my writers—each with her own custom color scheme. Associating a Story with a Category is as easy as clicking on the Story, selecting a Category from a drop-down menu, and clicking Save.
In addition to color-coding Stories, Categories also play a central role in Tiki-Toki’s timeline views. One option, Category Bands, horizontally sections your screen by Categories. Should you use only a handful of categories, this view might be ideal, but because I assigned each of my dozen writers to her own category, the Category view was not feasible (as you can see from the slideshow). Likewise, because most of my texts had approximated dates, the Duration view also proved unproductive; however, I could see how a project manager might assign this her de facto view. I ultimately settled on the Colored Stories because it enabled me to easily identify my texts by writers. With controls ranging from category width to display order, Tiki-Toki provides many ways to manage the look and feel of a timeline.
The Crooked Lines
While Category controls reside exactly where you might expect them—at the point of creation—Tiki-Toki is not always so forthcoming. Some important features, such as Spacing and View type, are easy to spot in the Settings pane. Others send you into the lengthy Advanced settings pane. This makes perfect sense for controlling something like a Dragger color; however, I should not have to hunt for my privacy settings or group edit options.
This brings me to my chief criticism: administering multiple accounts. A central functionality of the Teacher account is the ability to share timelines with students using up to fifty Pupil accounts. I expected that I could share my timeline with batch-created Pupil accounts. I was wrong. Tiki-Toki requires that students manually sign-up up for a Bronze account (username, password, email address) using a fifteen-digit Class Code associated with the Teacher account, after which the teacher can see their timelines, but the student cannot see the teacher’s. Rather, the Teacher must manually supply to the link and any editing credentials (should she set a Secret word to protect her timeline).
So here is the tick tock: If you’re a Teacher who has created a timeline to which you want students to contribute, you will have to provide your students with a fifteen-digit class code, hope that they successfully use that code to create accounts, and provide your students with the URL—and potentially a Secret word—to the timeline you want to group-edit. Perhaps I expect too little of students, but this sounds like a slow motion train wreck, multiplied fifty times over. And that is a shame, because this is a terrific idea which, when properly implemented, will set Tiki-Toki apart from the competition.
Tiki-Toki has room for improvement, especially when it comes to usability. I am heartened that the newest features (such as Categories) improve upon existing software design, and I am confident that small additions—perhaps quick access to search and story creation—could improve the experience of building out a timeline. As you can see from the slideshow, even a novice user with an unwieldy project can create a rather fetching timeline in Tiki-Toki. When it comes to sharing your timeline, be it in a small business or a classroom, for a charity or an NGO, there is a material benefit to having your timeline online and embeddable. Start with the free account: It is only one timeline, but that will be enough to tell you if Tiki-Toki is right for you.
|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista, Windows XP, Linux, Mac OS, Windows 7, Windows 8|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc