An Open-source and data timeline

Lab Reports, Timelines
`Open Data – Freecodecamp


The origin of software development has always been closely associated with free or open-source development. The open-source or open-access movement started here with the underlying principles of shared knowledge governing it. Open-source software development has evolved to now include the open-data movement. Open data is a call to governments to share data which helps with easier visualisation of problems and thus better solutions by the community and better policy-making. The timeline explores the technology journey of this evolution.

Topical deep-dive

The 1950s to 1960s was the era of development and early innovation in the field of computers and software development. This was marked by the free exchange of knowledge as it was more of an academic pursuit. The hardware came at a cost during this era but the software was free. The 1960s was marked by the birth of the Internet, which saw data and research being shared by researchers using the internet as a conduit.

Around the 1970s corporates and academicians parted ways with corporates hiring these innovators and buying their technology to be closed. Being closed source or proprietary meant that now software wasn’t freely accessible and came at a price, which also meant innovation and R&D followed suit. By 1983 initial Open-source pioneers like Richard Stallman had gotten frustrated by the closed nature of innovation and thus began the story of the resurgence of free-software and the birth of Open-source. GNU (built by Richard Stallman) was the first operating system that was freely shared.

Data and Data Visualisation as a field historically has been possible with the free nature of the data available to be gathered or make inferences upon. Whether it is maps, population data or data from epidemics none of the analysis would have been possible if the data gathered is kept proprietary. Machine-Learning and AI the most emerging fields that we see too that have granted us capabilities to look into the future are all based on the data we feed these algorithms. As an inference from this timeline, one can’t miss the correlation between the emergence of open-source and now the open-data movement.

Modern-day visualisation uses tools like Python and Javascript to make these visualisations possible. If it hadn’t been for the Netscape browser we wouldn’t have Javascript and living in a closed-source world would have meant that Python as a language would have restricted access. With such tools at hand and a move towards open data the visualisations will find more impact in policy making and holding governments accountable.

Tools -used

Tools that were used to make this timeline were TimelineJS, HTML and google sheets. The report was made and published using WordPress.


image with google sheet view of required fields for timeline

The making of this timeline involved delving into a topic and representing that on the timeline. What triggered my thought was the TimelineJS software in itself. I noticed that TimelineJS is an open-source tool created by Northwestern University Knightlab. This got me thinking about the evolution of Open-Source software and what role this movement had to play within the field of data and data visualisation.


The first phase of my process involved researching Open-Source and open data as individual topics. This involved reading about the milestone development and observing the inter-related nature of events within both fields.

Gathering data-points

The next phase involved making a list of overlapping events eg: the release of Netscape and the creation of Javascript or the creation of the Internet and the call for open data by the creator Tim-Berners-Lee.

Representing on TimelineJS

Post gathering data I read through how this data could be translated into a timeline in TimelineJS. It was a fairly simple and well-detailed out process that involved populating the events in google sheets, publishing the sheet and editing the sheet to reflect changes in the preview and then using the embed link within WordPress to publish it.

Editing the TimelineJS

The TimelineJS tool does give you the capability for minor customisations within the sheet using HTML. For detailed customisations, one can edit the code in Github. Even for Github edits it is a bit restrictive with CSS but does take in a couple of predefined class edits. I used HTML to centre my content and also to change the size of the text, I also added a background text highlight to the headlines

Publishing the Timeline

The final step involved embedding the code within WordPress and I used a button to redirect to a new tab view of the timeline as well.

Reflection and Critique


Through the process of working on this timeline one of the restrictions that I felt this software holds is the ability to make changes to the visual representation of the timeline. Although HTML does afford quick changes but easy embedding and changing using CSS would expand the capabilities of the Timeline.

Another restriction of the timeline is that transposing it to a vertical timeline seems a difficult task to achieve in its current form.


The timeline is well documented whether we tackle the point of its implementation of limitations. The timeline is also an easy-to-use way for anyone with minimal technical know-how to implement it. A timeline representation helps understand the cause and effect of any topic by visualising its evolution.

What more

Given more time I would definitely like to research and populate this timeline more and see what more observations can I derive from the extended timeline. I would also like to play around and customise the visualisation a bit more e.g: the disappearance and appearance of the text, the padding and space between image and text etc.