Line: Beautiful Chronological Storytelling

In the digital lives of today, chronology is everything. Our experiences are mapped out via timelines, and every turn of events is a narrative without a beginning or an end. This is a change of culture which has mostly been brought about by the concurrent social and mobile revolutions. Together, they have supplied us with the platforms and the technologies to make both real-time updates, and later access to them, a reality.

This functionality, of course, opens up the possibility of constructing compelling stories from real-life events. Sadly, the selection of elegant, reader-friendly tools with which we can deliver our reports is painfully limited. Social networks are nothing better than pragmatic, and the structure of a blog is not inherently suited to multimedia.

Hence, I’m very interested in trying Line. It is a new platform dedicated entirely to the creation of multimedia-rich timelines, and their subsequent presentation in a beautifully minimal, Medium-like design. But can it really provide the format that digital storytelling has been crying out for?

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Looking Good

As mentioned above, Line’s design has a strong flavour of Medium to it. There’s a green bar at the top, the menu is mouse-triggered, the layout is uncluttered, the fonts are large and the icons look…well…Medium-ish. And that’s fine, because it’s a look which is both practical and minimally beautiful.

Even your own dashboard is pretty.

Even your own dashboard is pretty.

The composition area is equally sleek. Your “lines” are stacked up in a grid, and each is represented by a circular featured image. From this dashboard, you’re able to edit, preview and delete your created lines, or begin work on a new line.

Lining

While a blog isn’t really a suitable publishing method for historical or time-sensitive stories, you’d hope that creating a timeline on a specialist platform might be as easy as capturing prose in a WordPress post. In reality, Line actually makes it easier than that.

You’re placed in a composition environment that is simple and visually clean. On the left is a tall, slender overview of your timeline, including any moments you have created, while the larger segment on the right displays the content you are working on.

As with most parts of Line, the composition area is really quite Medium-like.

As with most parts of Line, the composition area is really quite Medium-like.

To be ready to go, a new line only requires a title, a description and a cover image. The size and positioning of the cover image — which also acts as a preview — is hugely reminiscent of Facebook‘s timeline covers. But unlike Facebook, once you’ve uploaded a cover photo, there doesn’t appear to be a way of changing your mind. It’s a minor bug, but a frustrating one that caused me to delete a number of drafts.

Cover photo look like this? Better start again...

Cover photo look like this? Better start again…

However, once you’ve cleared that little hurdle, things become much smoother.

Moments

That’s because you’re into the business of recording moments, which is a pleasantly unhindered task.

The first, and only, required data field in each moment is the date. But Line encourages you to think outside the box — you can put anything from a precise date, to “a while back”, or even a place name if you’re creating a travelog-style line, for instance.

Next comes the title field, and below that is your opportunity to add some media. Line happily plays nicely with uploaded images, as well as externally hosted video and audio. Note, however, that I wrote “uploaded images” — there’s no image embedding on offer here. Lastly, you can flesh out the moment with as much prose as you like in the description field.

Adding moments is a pretty straightforward task.

Adding moments is a pretty straightforward task.

From here, it is just a case of rinse and repeat as many times as you have moments you want to share.

Throughout the line creation process, both the Preview and Publish buttons are ever-present in the top menu bar and both perform their duties with a single click.

If this all seems fairly unexceptional, that’s because it is. But I really like how Line just gets out of the way. In the reviewing of Line, I started creating timelines for testing purposes, but I ended up becoming engrossed in the creation of lines on subjects that interest me — the platform just faded into the background.

Browsing

From the reader’s perspective, lines are also an enjoyable experience. They are not as fulfilling or gripping as a carefully composed blog post; they feel more like linear, time-ordered text-and-images galleries. They are, however, exceedingly pretty, no matter which of the two display methods you select from Line’s drop-down menu.

The vertical view provides a classic timeline look. Down either side of the centrally placed green timeline are the moments you’ve included. Due to Line’s relaxed approach to dates, the moments are not placed in accordance with the length of time between each. Instead, the amount of content, and the space it occupies, dictates placement.

The vertical view is the classic timeline design.

The vertical view is the classic timeline design.

The horizontal view displays moments in near-fullscreen, with the timeline running sideways along the bottom of the window for context.

The Horizontal view is very lightbox-like.

The horizontal view is very lightbox-like.

Both display methods can be operated with the direction keys, further adding to the gallery feel. Either way, the lines look gorgeous.

Conclusion

I really like Lines. It’s unfussy and visually appealing, concentrating on the user experiences of both authors and readers. Even better, it hasn’t (yet) fallen into the trap of creating its own network — platforms such as these work best (in my opinion) when they concentrate on their media speciality, and steer clear of competing with more established networks.

Of course, the speciality Line works within is a very narrow one. Some folks won’t get the timeline attraction at all, while others will only make brief social media-driven visits.


Summary

A nicely designed and user-friendly timeline creator.

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