One click, and visitors to www.histography.io are immersed into a salmon-tinted world of pointillist history and dreamy ambient music created by interactive designer and developer, Matan Stauber.
With every single Wikipedia event distilled to a tiny ball bearing, this is data visualization at its most hypnotic. Events are organized chronologically, with events from the same year stacked vertically like the world’s biggest game of Connect Four. Clicking on an event draws up detailed information, videos, and a link to a Wikipedia page, while a brilliant sidebar filter allows one-to-one comparisons of notable events, like women’s rights to disasters, or music to riots.
One of the major challenges of the project, which took about four months to build, was providing users with the ability to scale and navigate all known time. While Stauber’s original idea was to redesign Wikipedia for his final project at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem, he quickly realized he needed to build a separate platform for navigating billions of years.
“If you place all of humanity on a calendar—starting from the birth of the galaxy—it will only fill the last second,” says Stauber, whose father is a historian. “Timelines are the most common way to visualize history; as a designer that was an especially interesting challenge for me.” It’s essentially the challenge of putting ourselves in context: Human existence is a mere blip compared to the magnitude of all space and time.
When it was first released, the data visualization was lauded online and won a flurry of awards, but for Stauber, one of the most interesting conversations sparked by the project was around the rise of big data. “We are collecting so much information,” he says. “People are trying to figure out what we can we do with all of that.”
Histography also has an editorial stories view, depicting Wikipedia’s catalogue of events as a descending spiral. This starts from Ireland’s legalization of same-sex marriage, eventually falling deeper and deeper towards the Big Bang. Events include, for example, “The Discovery of Canada,” “Domestication of the Chicken,” and “The Birth-Control Pill,” each given their own place in Stauber’s column of time.
Of the site’s textured pink surface, Stauber says he wanted to build a colour scheme very different than what you’d imagine a history website would look like. And he says there’s no right way to navigate the site. “I think one of the interesting questions is, how can we present all this information to the public in a way that is accessible? I think we will see more and more projects trying to deal with this type of issue.”