Timeliner and the Build-To-Clone Model
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Here’s a little app I cooked up recently: Timeliner. It’s based on a gorgeous Javascript widget produced by the SIMILE Project at MIT. (Thanks to Rob Mowery for pointing it out – he sends us all kinds of goodies, that man.) It’s a very basic proof of concept that just makes it easy to add events on a timeline and share it. Try clicking on events, or grabbing the timeline and dragging it around – nifty, eh?

What makes it a little different from most web apps, however, is the way in which you add to it. If you want to create your own subject timeline to mix in with the others, you don’t use the Timeliner app itself. Instead, you hit “Get Your Own!” and clone the Timeliner app to create a new timeline, which you can tweak to your heart’s desire.

The main Timeliner app acts as an aggregator that queries across the whole of Ning for any timeline events and displays them all together. By providing extra context for historical events, timelines are great for showing the value of layering data from different sources.

It’s a new way to build apps, made possible by the “Get Your Own!” button. On Wednesday, during his keynote speech at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, Tim O’Reilly talked about Ning – specifically, what we bring to the sphere of web application development with the concept of cloning. By coincidence, I gave a talk on this very topic the day before Tim’s: you can watch a seven-minute Flash version of the talk here.

One of the reasons I created Timeliner was to demonstrate a new model for web apps. Building apps for cloning allows each user to take control of their own app interface and features while still joining in with everyone else.

People can further clone from each others improvements, which means that the app features collaboratively evolve. Ning is among the first platforms to take this new model and apply it to web applications, and our Playground’s a great place to explore it.