Tech Q&A; Timeglider helps people create interactive timelines

krodine@idahostatesman.comApril 23, 2013 

  • About Timeglider

    Name: Timeglider (Mnemograph LLC)

    Owners: Michael Richardson, Justin Kuntz and Will Reilly

    Type of business entity: Idaho LLC

    Address: 611 N. Haines St., Boise

    Phone and business hours: 850-8512; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday

    Website: timeglider.com

    Number of employees: Three (Richardson full time, Reilly and Kuntz part time)

    Investors: None currently

    Cost of building: None; virtual office.

    Startup costs: Server costs are about $700 per year; lots of sweat.

    Revenues: Small (declined to give a specific amount)

    When Richardson expects to turn a profit: 2014

    Prices of services: Free for up to three timelines and 16 images. Subscriptions: "Plus" for $5 per month, "Pro" for $50 per month.

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    Contact business reporter Kristin Rodine at krodine@idahostatesman.com or 377-6448.

Michael Richardson found the idea for Timeglider in 2003 while working on a graduate school project at New York's Sarah Lawrence College.

"I was researching the events leading up to the invasion of Iraq," he says. "Looking through the New York Times archive on the Web, it struck me that one could not simply review history. A keyword could get you, at best, a jumble of articles, and only 10 at a time. A data-driven chronology was conspicuously absent from the Web. I realized there was an opportunity to invent one."

Initially calling his effort Mnemograph, Richardson developed the product for several years before bringing in marketing partner Will Reilly and launching the business in 2008. Another partner, designer Justin Kuntz, joined in 2011.

Timeglider offers the service free to students and others who need only a few timelines. It sells subscription plans to educators, historians, businesses and agencies.

"FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), the largest securities regulator for the government, uses Timeglider in an internal app for viewing corporate records and financial data," Richardson says. "The British National Health Service has recently implemented a Timeglider timeline inside of their patient data portal. One of the country's largest airplane maintenance companies uses Timeglider to keep track of aircraft issues and planning."

Q. What is your business about?

A. Ultimately, we're creating a cartography of time and history - a standard for recording and experiencing history on screens. People are deeply familiar with how maps allow us to explore, from a satellite's eye, what the Earth looks like - and all the value that comes from that. Google has taken cartography to an incredible new level, such that one can zoom and search a map of almost infinite detail, and even be a part of that map. What if one could explore a map of history, either generally or according to a topic? Our first goal has been to get the software in front of teachers and students. We'll be creating more timeline content in the coming year, and eventually offering a "master timeline"created by historians. We want to end up with a way of exploring history, biographies, evolution and cosmology that is as compelling as the most immersive video game.

Q. With whom do you compete?

A. There are a few other companies out there offering similar timeline experiences: www.dipity.com, www.tiki-toki.com, and others. Also, since we offer our software to developers (not open source, but free for noncommercial use), we compete with timeline components like MIT's SIMILE project: www.simile-widgets.org/timeline/

Q. What makes your business unusual or special?

A. Data-driven, interactive timelines (as opposed to one-off graphic timelines) are a very tricky animal to tame, especially when they zoom in and out. We're the only company that's tackled the entire range of creation and publishing of interactive timelines with a product that's truly intuitive.

Q. Do you partner with other businesses?

A. Not currently, but we're open to it.

Q. What did you do previously?

A. Both Justin and I are designers who have migrated slowly into software development. Will has a deep background in marketing business intelligence software. I started out as a furniture builder, then moved into graphic and book design, and in 2001 began to focus exclusively on Web design. Of course Web design and programming are inseparable, so gradually I've become a "developer."

Q. What challenges have you faced, and how have you met them?

A. For years, I'd built and operated Timeglider alone. Once you've started the ball rolling with an idea, it's incredibly hard to find people who resonate with what you're doing and who are willing to put some sweat into a startup. I feel incredibly lucky to have Will and recently Justin on board.

Another major challenge in Web-based software is staying current: I read the tech press every day to stay on top of changes to the dominant platforms of the Web: devices, graphics code frameworks, platforms, etc.

Timeglider was originally built in Adobe's Flash platform, which turned out to be a dying framework - especially as it was blocked by Apple from operating on iPads. We've rebuilt the entire app in HTML5. We also changed our hosting from a traditional Web host to a PaaS (platform-as-a-service) host called AppFog, based in Portland, where everything now lives somewhere in Amazon's Cloud.

Q. Why should people do business with you?

A.We're pioneers and innovators in our field, and we strive to create an experience on the Web, and in software, of illumination and exploration. We're also experienced with solving tricky software problems and have client work in our DNA.

Q. What do you hope to achieve in the next three to five years?

A. We anticipate that Timeglider will grow to be a standard tool for high school and college history education within the next few years, and it will be common for schools to run their own installations of Timeglider on their own servers.

We're planning to introduce a product (under a different brand) for lawyers and other professionals in 2014.

In five years, a Timeglider app will be something most iPad owners use to explore world history, projects, and personal or family history. Timeglider's core component will also be integrated into more large-scale business intelligence applications.

Kristin Rodine: 377-6447

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