Visual Timeline search (Zotero style)

Ive only just seen Zotero for FFox. Looks interesting. 2 things that immediately struck me was the use of tagging and in particular the Visual timeline for viewing your documents in chronological order (pressumably just putting creation/modification date data to ghood use).

Now wouldn’t DT be grand with a visual timeline? (and regular tagging of course). OK, the document view window and search filter applied already do the same thing… but as my usual argument goes in these forums, visual-thinkers like me and some sorting approaches just look and work better if displayed in a more visual way. The computing power is already here for this stuff.

link to demo of: Zotero Timeline

I was kinda “meh” when I first read your idea, but then I watched the demo and thought it was pretty amazing.

I’m all for DEVONthink Pro getting new, more tangible ways to manipulate data, and I for one encourage the wholesale incorporation of any and all features the developers find interesting 8)

Since I work with a lot of timelines and have been forced to use the woefully-restrictive OS X port of Graphviz, I’m sure that it would only be a matter of time before I figured out a good way to use something with this functionality.

I’m writing a series of books with a really detailed mess of arcing plotlines with a system of smaller storylines, and each plotline and storyline involves various characters, at various places, at various times, and so forth. I’d love to be able to work on a specific character/place/time and view only the things happening with that particular thing, or a specific plotline/storyline, but it’s unworkable with any mind-mapping app I’ve yet come across. Graphviz doesn’t even accept AppleScript! Not that it would solve all of my problems, but it would certainly make them smaller.

A real-time ability, perhaps using the DEVONthink built-in search functions, to exclude or specifically include elements of each event would make it immensely easier to work on these things, perceive and fix problems, and analyze them for relative weaknesses and strengths.

And as I’ve said before, I’d cheerfully pay $80-100 for DEVONtime or DEVONmap or some other application that includes mind-mapping, time-lining, flow charts, etc.

(Not to mention the implied ability to be able to handle “imagemap”-like images… I’ve said before and I’ll say it again, many other problems would be solved and an immense amount of functionality would be unlocked if DEVON created a devon:// protocol handler thingy that would allow people to make internal HTML-ish links in the database…)


is a great idea. I also took a look at the Zotero demo, and it is quite impressive. One of my uses for DEVONthink is to track issues in the news. I have thousands of articles collected over the past few years. It would be of tremendous use to be able to visually inspect related items to capture trends and more easily reorganize them as the sweep of history becomes more apparent.

Varieties of data visualization approaches:

Data visualization approaches cover a very wide range of possible approaches, both in the identification of connectivity with some property or measure, and in the method of presentation.

Many approaches focus on a property of a document that’s innate. For example, DEVONagent 2.x provides in the Digest view a listing of words that appear frequently in the set of pages, the “Topics”. Click on a topic and one sees a network representing, at the center, the subset of pages that contain that term, with graphical linking to subsets that also contain another of the terms in the topic list, and so on. In this example, no user intervention is required to generate the list of topics, or to define the characteristics of the network (although the user can enter a new topic term).

DEVONagent users often ask for the ability to sort a list of Web pages by date. Unfortunately, there’s not a standard – or if so, certainly not one in wide use – that defines the use of dates for organizing Web pages. A page will have been captured and saved to the Archive or to DEVONthink on a certain date. The page may have been modified by the site administrator on a certain date, it may contain the date of publication as a news article, and it may refer to an event that happened, e.g. in 1957. Most date references simply occur in the body of the text, with no standard contextual reference to clarify how they are to be interpreted by software.

Suppose I’m researching a paper on the influence of Adam Smith on contemporaneous and subsequent economic theory. I’ve got a large collection of documents, from original materials to historical overviews to a number of scholarly publications written at various times.

I’m likely to discover that different writers have different perspectives about Adam Smith. I may try to analyze this in terms of “schools” of economic theory, and I’ll find that a timeline becomes important in describing the rise and fall of such schools. For example, it will be pretty evident that if I look at a book written by a German economist in 1890 it will substantially differ in theoretical approaches from one written by a German economist in 1996 (and not merely in the number of footnotes – a subject about which I tend to tease scholars).

And I’m likely to find that the geopolitical setting in which writers work is important. For example, Galbraith and Lafler have commonalities of perspective that they would not share with a Russian Marxist economist.

Timeline presentations would make good tools to help explicate the evolution of economic theory from the time of Adam Smith to the present.

Here’s where a tagging scheme becomes important. To support such a presentation I’ll have to provide two components; a quantitative component, time (which can be aggregated by year, decade, perhaps an interval such as that period dominated by a political movement, etc.) and qualitative components, such as descriptive terms for a school of economic theory. Subsequently, I can do searches for references and/or time periods within my database.

That tagging scheme is metadata about selected topics, arising from my own research and analysis. It doesn’t exist in my database independently. I’ve got to add it. Or perhaps just create tables representing the presentation I want to provide the reader. And that tagging scheme (or presentation) is “subjective” in the sense that it is subject to review and analysis of my findings. It’s a hypothesis (at best; I studied under Karl Popper).

And it’s the culmination of a lot of hard work! Which is why, whenever possible, I try to work with “objective” visual representations. An example of such an objective visual representation is a weather map. Or a three-dimensional representation displaying by color and shade the level of contamination of a pollutant in surface and subsurface soils at a Superfund side, which summarizes reams of data. Note, however, that it has taken decades of work to establish the techniques and conventions underlying such visual representations, so that they can be accepted as both objective and meaningful. These two examples are really wonderful, as one can obtain a great deal of information at a glance.

I must say that I have reservations about most mind-mapping schemes, as they often tend to support quick, facile conclusions about relationships that may well be wrong or meaningless. Example: I once conducted a series of 730 experiments, with the results of each documented in a lab notebook and each containing a visual representation of the data as a graph. Flipping through the pages and glancing at the graphs, one quickly gained the impression that the results individually displayed a trend in the results, and the many-fold replications of that trend reinforced the impression that one could draw a meaningful conclusion from the graphs. Wrong. A careful statistical analysis of the data showed there was no trend. As these experiments involved a potential medical procedure (for treatment of glaucoma) that was costly and had associated risks, a more careful evaluation led to the conclusion that the procedure should not be done, as it would not have benefited patients, might injure some and would be a waste of resources. That conclusion was subsequently verified by other researchers.

Subsequently I showed that collection of 730 graphs to several doctors and medical researchers. Without exception, they concluded that the data indicated a useful procedure that should produce favorable results. How easily we can be led to jump to wrong conclusions!

We often bring preconceptions to visual experience. A number of artists have demonstrated that they can make us “see” things that are not there, or that are physically impossible.

Such caveats aside, visual representation of data can be very useful, and it’s likely that it will appear in DEVONthink. I like the visual representation in DEVONagent 2.2 and hope that at some point it can be extended to (more memory intensive) use of phrases rather than just single-word terms.

The revised database structure that will be used in version 2.0 will make it easier for other applications to access the content of a database, or perhaps to develop cooperative interactions with other applications. So that should provide additional routes to visualization of the content of databases.


Wonderful discussion. This last graph, though, made me wonder: are you saying, that we may see some closer relationship, increased compatability between DTPO and Firefox/Zotero?


I didn’t say that specifically. :slight_smile:

But in the revised database all documents will be potentially visible to other applications, which is not currently the case.

Sorry if I seem like your dentist, drilling in, but might it be possible to have the same functionality with Firefox as we have with Safari? And when might we expect to see the new version?

J :stuck_out_tongue:

Firefox lacks functionality both in compatibility with OS X Services and in scripting ‘hooks’. Those are up to the developers of Firefox.

Probably some months, likely not before the end of 2007. There’s still Leopard-related code that can’t be meaningfully tested yet.

Wow. I really look forward to DT2 and a post-Leopard future!

Meanwhile, with my research project due I cant continue to fool myself that the ‘perfect’ tool to simplify my reasoning exists outside of my own skull :wink: … but I do get-off on tools that make pattern recognition easier, even when as Bill suggests, we cant trust everything we see at face value (ie. seeing is not always believing).

This thread has taken off in a really interesting way. Im also learning some very useful ideas about the whole visualisation process, the advantages and the traps. Fantastic :slight_smile:

Can we point the “network” representation in DEVONagent at your own DEVONTthink database? This seems like a logical first step in the visualisation process, that is, being able navigate a network representation of your own data.

I’m not sure I understand your criticism of mind-mapping, or its relationship to the example you gave. I don’t think even Tony Buzan claims that mind-mapping can or should replace rigorous analytical tools. It’s just a way to illustrate the structure and relationships within a body of information. I’ve found maps especially helpful for highly interconnected structures–the sharing of ideas among different schools of economics, say–where purely linear tools such as outlines fail to capture essential relationships.


Just making the cautionary note that we have a tendency to trust things that we see, and sometimes that trust is misplaced.

As to outlines, I’m completely in agreement with you.


Thank our lucky stars for cognitive psychology and statistical analyses.