Microsoft and Computer Science Educators—Inspiring the Next Generation

Presenting the History of Everything


Today, March 14—Einstein’s birthday no less—marks the release of the beta version of an incredible new tool for the study of history: ChronoZoom. This powerful open-source tool, a joint effort of the University of California, Berkeley; Moscow State University; the Outercurve Foundation; andMicrosoft Research Connections, will be unveiled at the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE) Conference and is available for download.

What, you might ask, is so wonderful about ChronoZoom? After all, history resources abound. There are thousands of digital repositories, collections, libraries, and websites full of images, videos, documents, facts, and figures—not to mention the wealth of content squirreled away in private offices, personal computers, and university servers. But the sheer volume and disparate locations of these resources confound researchers, educators, and students, who spend untold hours searching this information, seeking to better understand history and its lessons for our future. What if we had a tool that could bring all these resources together?

Moreover, despite increasing collaboration, the sciences and humanities are still largely taught and researched in silos. For example, when I took an East Asian Studies course in college, I learned what was happening in China in the 1400s, but not what was going on in the Middle East or Africa or Latin America, or what was taking place in the scientific realms of physics and chemistry. If we brought these worlds together, would we ask different questions? Would we arrive at new understandings of the past, resulting in different innovations and insights today?

Such are the questions we hope to answer with ChronoZoom, which makes time relationships between different studies of history clear and vivid. In the process, it provides a framework for exploring related electronic resources, including videos, text, charts, schematics, images, articles, and other multimedia content. ChronoZoom thus serves as a “master timeline,” tying together all kinds of specialized timelines and electronic resources, and it aspires to bridge the gap between the humanities and the sciences. In the spirit of “make no small plans,” ChronoZoom seeks to unify all knowledge of the past and to make this information easy to understand.

In so doing, ChronoZoom emerges as a potentially vital tool in the evolving field of Big History, which attempts to unify the past—all of the past, from the beginning of time, some 13.7 billion years ago, to the present—through the four major regimes: cosmic history, Earth history, life history, and human history. Big History offers a broad understanding of how the past has unfolded, and it lets us explore the unifying characteristics that can bridge the intellectual chasm between the humanities and the sciences.


Today’s release of ChronoZoom is especially exciting for me because this tool was made by the academic community for the academic community. There’s no other timeline tool today that is supported by such a vast number of experts in different disciplines around the world. ChronoZoom has two communities that are led by two outstanding universities:

  • The content community, which provided the digital content to populate and share on ChronoZoom, led by Professor Walter Alvarez and Roland Saekow at the University of California, Berkeley
  • The development community, which built the feature set to bring ChronoZoom to life, led by Dr. Sergey Berezin at Moscow State University.

In addition, significant student involvement sets ChronoZoom apart. On the dev side, more than 80 percent of ChronoZoom is the work of undergraduate and graduate computer science students at Moscow State. The amazing application you can explore today was developed in three months by these students with support from Microsoft Research engineers. Similarly, 90 percent of the content in ChronoZoom was organized and developed by students at Cal Berkeley.

Today’s release is a call to action to the academic community to tryChronoZoom in their classrooms and then vote on its features and let us know what could make the tool even more useful. For academic experts and digital collection owners, it’s an opportunity to help determine the content that should be in ChronoZoom. For computer science institutions and developers around the world, it’s a call to join our open-source community and help us build the next set of features.

ChronoZoom has a long history and has gone through different phases of development. In the spring of 2009, Roland Saekow had the good fortune of taking Professor Alvarez’s Big History course. During the course, Professor Alvarez used a variety of tools, from log scales to multi-sheet paper timelines, to convey the vast time scales of Big History.

Luckily, Saekow remembered a TED talk about a new computer zoom technology called Seadragon. He approached Professor Alvarez after class, and they started brainstorming about how a zoomable timeline would function. With the help of the Industry Alliances group on campus, they got in touch with Microsoft Research and Microsoft Live Labs, which helped produce the first prototype version of ChronoZoom.

Today, with feedback from other Big History, humanities, and science professors around the world, we are focused on creating an all-new ChronoZoom that is a great educational tool for the classroom and research tool for academics. After creating the first version of ChronoZoom, we worked in collaboration with universities, professors, and students to make this tool easier to use in the classroom, but we definitely encourage feedback. This is why we are making the ChronoZoom beta version available to the community—hoping for significant feedback and collaboration to create a great tool that helps students, educators, and researchers really understand the history of everything.

We’re pleased to announce that the ChronoZoom project is now part of theOutercurve Foundation’s Research Accelerators Gallery. The Outercurve Foundation, a non-profit, open-source foundation, provides software IP management and project development governance to 22 open-source projects. The foundation’s four galleries—the Research Accelerators, ASP.NET Open Source, Data, Languages and Systems Interoperability, and Innovators Galleries—support the collaborative development of software in open-source communities, yielding faster results and improved community development for organizations and research groups worldwide

If you’re attending the NCCE Conference, I hope you’ll visit me today as I launch ChronoZoom beta in a training workshop for educators. And wherever you are, please try out the ChronoZoom beta in the weeks ahead, as we hope to get more than 500,000 users providing feedback over the next six months. If you want to help with content or development, please email us at

Zoom away!

Rane Johnson-Stempson, Education and Scholarly Communication Principal Research Director, Microsoft Research Connections


ChronoZoom An Infinite Canvas in Time

ChronoZoom is an open-source community project dedicated to visualizing the history of everything. Big History is the attempt to understand, in a unified, interdisciplinary way, the history of cosmos, Earth, life, and humanity. By using Big History as the story line, ChronoZoom seeks to bridge the gap between the humanities and sciences an enable all this information to be easily understandable and navigable.
Try ChronoZoom 2.0 Beta

ChronoZoom was developed to make time relationships between different studies of history clear and vivid. In the process, it provides a framework for exploring related electronic resources. It thus serves as a “master timeline” tying together all kinds of specialized timelines and electronic resources, and aspires to bridge the gap between humanities and the sciences and to bring together and unify all knowledge of the past.

You can browse through history on ChronoZoom to find data in the form of articles, images, video, sound, and other media. ChronoZoom links a wealth of information from five major regimes that unifies all historical knowledge collectively known as Big History.

By drawing upon the latest discoveries from many different disciplines, you can visualize the temporal relationships between events, trends, and themes. Some of the disciplines that contribute information to ChronoZoom include biology, astronomy, geology, climatology, prehistory, archeology, anthropology, economics, cosmology, natural history, and population and environmental studies.

This project has been funded and supported by Microsoft Research Connections in collaboration with University California at Berkeley and Moscow State University.


Our Vision

We envision a world where scientists, researchers, students, and teachers collaborate through ChronoZoom to share information via data, tours, and insight. Imagine a world where the leading academics publish their findings to the world in a manner that can easily be accessed and compared to other data. Imagine a tool that allows teachers to generate tours specific to their classroom needs.

This can happen with your support. We need your feedback to continue to mold this project to suit your needs. Try ChronoZoom and then provide feedback and vote for features by taking the survey. This will help us priorities the next feature set.

We will focus on community development of features, capabilities, and content. We plan to work with two communities:

  • One community will consist of content providers, humanities and science researchers, think tanks, ischools, and organizations that have digital libraries, digital content, and cultural content. The goal is that the content will be viewed in a time-based tool that will help the history of everything come to life by uniting humanities and science stories.Content examples: history of particle physics; history of chemical reactions; climate change; history of the Nile, which could include cultural and scientific data; and the history of Polynesian culture.
  • The other community will consist of members of computer science departments and ischools who are interested in big data, data visualization, database design, and informatics. This community will help us build out the next set of features for ChronoZoom to support the needs of researchers and professors.

Big Questions

Some big questions we are trying to answer with ChronoZoom:

  • How do you organize huge amounts (terabytes and more) of different types of data (such as audio, video, text, PDF files, and images) logically and so they’re easily consumable?
  • How do you retain precision while displaying historical information ranging from billions of years ago to today on one scale?
  • How do you prioritize content when you have multiple items for the same time period? For example, an Egyptian history timeline, a Chinese cultural history timeline, an Islamic history timeline, a Japanese-American history timeline, and a particle physics timeline might all share a significant event on the same date in the year 1890—how do you display this on the timeline canvas?
  • How do you efficiently draw elements on the canvas by using HTML Document Object Model (DOM) graphical elements and not sacrifice CPU usage?
  • How do you ensure the same experience on multiple devices, operating systems, and browsers, so that users will have the exact same experience whether they use a Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, Windows Phone, or Android device?
  • How do you make a third-party authoring tool that incorporates an editorial board approval process and provides online journal annotations to populate the timeline—enabling a new type of peer review of entries?
  • Do you require an author to build the timeline and create the story line, or do you automate the pull of data from all creative-commons, freely available datasets and libraries on the Internet?
  • How do you compare multiple timelines and data sets?
  • How do you retain the ambiguity of history? There are many interpretations of history, and much disagreement among experts about historical events; how do you ensure that students of history have access to the diverse historical information so that they can analyze it and develop their own interpretation of what happened?

Potential Future Features

Some of the possible future features could enable the user to:

  • Create personal canvas/timeline/tours
  • Generate internal user bookmarks
  • Generate a chart dynamically and place it where they want on the timeline
    • Display curve and segmented line graphs and plot events coded for magnitude
    • Phylogenetic trees
    • Svg drawing
  • Filter exhibits based on subject
  • Choose data from data library
  • Customize time direction up to down, down to up, left to right, right to left
  • Compare data and timelines
  • Share timelines or tours with others via social networking
  • Display the uncertainty of dates (approximate dates)
  • Show a time range in addition to a specific date in time
  • Present multiple interpretations
  • Display geo-spacial data



Microsoft Research Connections and the ChronoZoom Project promote the establishment of relationships with academics and other partners (like publishers, broadcasters, NGOs, foundations, and organizations that have rich digital media content that crosses the sciences and humanities) to create valuable user experiences with this new technology. As data gets added to the platform, others can share access to enrich their experiences as well.

Get Involved!

  • Try ChronoZoom 2.0 Beta to learn about history or use it in the classroom.
  • Take the survey to vote for features and provide us with valuable feedback.
  • If you are a with computer science department and would like to provide information to include in ChronoZoom, such as data visualizations, data management, and natural user interfaces,
  • If you are a researcher or with an organization that has a significant digital collection or expertise in historic events, help us grow ChronoZoom by


Microsoft Research ChronoZoom Team