Dipity: timeline design that helps users track the news

2 July 2012

Written by: Steinar Ellingsen

Dipity is a website which aims to take the hassle out of researching and following any number of topics.  The site allows users to create a timeline corresponding to the topic of their choice, and upload links relevant to its history. These links, in the form of page URLs, photos, and tweets (among others), are then given dates by the user, and arranged chronologically.

For example, the timeline titled Murdoch: Phone-Hacking Scandal lists articles highlighting key events in the ongoing enquiry. Clicking on any one of these links opens a preview to the associated article, displaying brief information about the source. Timeline posts can be arranged as flipbooks, simple lists, or in map form to chart the origin of the material.

As a journalistic tool Dipity’s use lies primarily in its ability to display news events as they happen, whilst putting them in a wider context alongside relevant articles. This assists journalists in gaining a more in-depth understanding of a given story, and therefore a more informed narrative to their writing. Embedding of timelines is also useful, in that it allows sites such as news outlets to easily link readers from a particular article to their related content.

The website’s limitations lie primarily in its subscription-based model, as well as the way timelines are maintained.  Importantly, it is possible to view and follow any number of timelines at no cost. However, users are limited in the number of timelines that they can create, as well as their content.

This essentially means that only those who are willing to pay are able to create timelines on topics that interest them, unlike sites such as Timeline. In addition, Dipity timelines are only open to be edited by others if given permission, so users must be aware that articles chosen by a single person may not provide the most objective accounts of events. Like any online media, assessing sources is up to the discretion of the reader.

There are also some problems in turn of site usage. Patrick Cauley of IT Babble, writes that the zoom function on timelines was overly sensitive, and that advertising was too prevalent on timelines themselves.

While the site states that newspapers such as The Washington Post and The Guardian use embedded Dipity links in their news articles, the reality is that while the Dipity is a useful tool, its user base is visibly limited. A growing base would lead to more timelines on the same issues, so improved navigation and sorting for searches is a must for the future of the site. In its current state, Dipity’s search function orders results purely by relevance, regardless of popularity or other factors.

For the site to become more accessible, it will need to be a place where timelines are a place for discussion, rather than a collection of sources presented to the viewer. Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch writes, ‘my biggest concern about Dipity is whether or not it will be a practical place for users to carry out discussions around the items they share’.

Despite its flaws, Dipity is an invaluable tool for journalists in many disciplines. It succeeds for the most part in providing the reader with a concise and hopefully unbiased account of the any given topic. It is a site that’s usefulness is tied directly to the number of users, so attracting people to buy into their subscription model and create informative interesting content stands as the main test for the Dipity team.

Tim Viney is a Master of Global Communications student at La Trobe University.