What can you do with this tool? What kinds of stories is it good for?
This tool is simply for building timelines. It is extremely user friendly and only requires about four steps to create a really attractive timeline. I don’t think that Timeline JS is particularly useful for large data sets, because it requires you to input all of your data into a specific template that they have created. It’s possible, but would take a lot of patience on your part, because it is not as simple as just uploading your data set. I think that Timeline JS is more useful for ongoing reporting projects, or smaller data sets. One great feature of using a Google Spreadsheet, is that you are able to continuously update your data, while still using the same single spreadsheet. Timeline JS is often used for documenting someone’s life (http://world.time.com/2013/12/05/nelson-mandelas-extraordinary-life-an-interactive-timeline/), or specific events/series of events (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/timeline-egypt-inturmoil0.html). The way Al Jazeera America uses it here is particularly useful, I think, for explaining the background behind major news stories.
How do you get started using it? Link to tutorials or help docs or Lynda.com resources that are useful for learning this tool.
First, watch this short introductory video: http://youtu.be/vAWbm4gF9lU. Timeline JS is extremely easy to use. Like crazy easy. But it only works if you follow their steps and use their template. As explained in the video, you have to input your data into their Google Spreadsheet template. After doing so, all you have to do is publish your spreadsheet to the web. Now you are able to go back to Timeline JS and, by pasting your link to the published spreadsheet, create your timeline!
How easy or hard is it? What skills do you need to become proficient in it?
It. Is. So. Easy. Seriously, you have no excuse not to make a timeline. The only thing that is kind of difficult, as I mentioned before, is having to input your own data. But really, that is more tedious than anything. All of the programming is done for you, the spreadsheet is built, and all you have to do is add your data. You should be proficient in Google Spreadsheets to use Timeline JS. It is just helpful to be familiar with the program and how to add/remove rows, insert hyperlinks and data, things that are very easy but very important.
Would you recommend this to a friend? Will you consider using it for your final data story?
I would recommend Timeline JS to a friend. Particularly to a journalist who is spending a good deal of time reporting and may not have the time to deal with the programming involved with making a timeline like this. I am definitely considering using this for my final data story, but likely not for my main data set because it is very large and also very quantitative. This sort of timeline is much more fitted for more qualitative data — pieces of a story that you can string together to tell a narrative over a certain period of time. I would like to use Timeline JS to illustrate solar/renewable energy initiatives in Boston over time.