Journalism in the Public Interest

The ProPublica Nerd Blog

TimelineSetter: Easy Timelines From Spreadsheets, Now Open to All


Talking Points Memo used TimelineSetter to create a timeline featuring events in Wisconsin’s public-sector union struggle.

Last week we announced TimelineSetter, our new tool for creating beautiful interactive HTML timelines. Today, after a short private beta with some of our fellow news application developers, we’re opening the code to everyone.

How to Install

If you’ve got Ruby and Rubygems installed, you can get the package by running:

sudo gem install timeline_setter

You can also check out the source code from Github.


TimelineSetter’s documentation explains exactly how to jump in and create your first timeline. You don’t have to be a programmer to use it, but do you do need to be comfortable using software from the command line.

If you want to see how the JavaScript works, we’ve also annotated the code to make it clear exactly how it’s put together.

Demos not Memos

To go along with the open source release, we put together a demo timeline which pulls live tweets from four news organizations and places them in separate series on a timeline.

Some of our beta testers have used TimelineSetter to create timelines already:

Update: Past examples may have broken depending on their respective sites' code maintenance. TimelineSetter's GitHub page contains a variety of working examples.

What’s on the Roadmap?

Right now, TimelineSetter works by simply “baking out” static assets. It doesn’t require a server at all, and can be hosted anywhere (for example, on Amazon S3). While we plan to keep this functionality, we’re also planning to make it run on a server as a Sinatra app, much like TableSetter does. Check out the roadmap section of the docs for our running feature wish list. If you’d like to contribute, fork the project and submit a pull request.

If you have questions, or if you make something awesome with TimelineSetter, email us at We’ll add our favorite implementations to our “in the wild” list.

Maura Youngman

Sep. 6, 2011, 4:32 p.m.

It seems the timelines are missing from both the TPM example and the PBS example. Or, I can’t see them.

Charles C. Duncan Pardo

Feb. 17, 2012, 4:06 p.m.

got it to work on windows. it didn’t like the mkdir command, but got it to run by creating the javascripts and stylesheets directories first, then running the command.

awesome tool. thanks for sharing.


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