The new navigation and the landing pages are very cool additions to the Lexicon. They make finding things a whole lot easier. The next part of the big site update I’d like to talk about is the timeline system. Before I talk about what we created, I’d like to explain some of the difficulties involved with creating a timeline of a fictional world.
Since none of these events actually occurred in real life, they only have the level of exactness and certainty which is given in canon. We might know the exact date for some events or even the exact time. But most events aren’t identified that carefully. In some cases, all we have is the month (or part of the month). Sometimes we’re given the season and while we can work out whether it’s early or late in the season, we can’t say the exact month. In a few cases we know the exact date but only know approximately in which year that event occurred. A series of events might be identifiable to a particular year or month or season, but we don’t know which, only that they happened in a particular order.
To create a timeline using these events is extremely difficult. Computers like facts. They don’t handle well concepts like “In the summer after school let out, so either July or August, following that other event which is also sometime the summer.” So we had to find a way to assign computer-friendly identifiers to each event which would allow the system to properly order them, while at the same time not state as canon what canon doesn’t reveal. What we came up with was a code which identifies the era, the century, the decade, the year, and so on for each event. Then we went ahead used what we did know to arbitrarily create more information than canon gives, right down to the time of day in some cases. We didn’t want users to actually see that information, since it wasn’t canon, so we created a second identifier which let the system know how far down that chain of numbers was actually canon and what should be displayed.
With this system we might assign that summer event the date of July 15 to make it appear on the timeline after the previous event which we assigned the date of July 14, but those assigned dates wouldn’t be shown to the user since they are only identifiers for ordering the timeline. The timeline shows both events simply as the year, but places them in the middle of the events shown for that year and ordered correctly based on the invisible month and day. The image shows this happening with a string of events in 1752.
All that is to say that we finally worked out a way for the timelines to be displayed on the Lexicon.
The next step is to import each event into that timeline. There are two ways to do this: manually and automatically. Obviously, with hundreds of events, automatically would be the easiest way to pull everything in. However, writing the code to import things that way is fiddly work, and Nick is taking it slowly, doing one section at a time. The import process has to filter for priority, sort out Real World, Fandom, and Lexicon events to be used on specialty timelines, and correctly understand the data of each event to place it properly in the sequence. Events are separate entries in our database which have been accumulating over the past ten years or more, added by a lot of different editors and using different database systems. As a result, there are errors and missing fields here and there.
That means that for every group of entries we import, we have a lengthy curation process. I go through the resulting timeline and editing, adding, correcting, and fixing entries. Sometimes I realize that important events are missing altogether. At other times, I have to go in and assign those invisible dates and times to get everything to display chronologically. Since our goal is to have an image on every event, sometimes I just edit events to add fan artwork.
All of this takes a lot of time. Nick and I have been working in it for months. It’s only now, with the advent of the new navigation system and its Events landing page, that we felt that the timelines were ready for users to see. So when we flipped the switch on the site update, we included the Master Timeline (as far as it was) and placeholders for quite a few specialized timelines as well.
Then I set to work, pulling in my editorial staff to help. We created timelines for most of the major characters, made up of events culled from the database. We created timelines for many different topics such as Quidditch and MACUSA and Evil in the World, and we’re still at it. There are always more timelines to create, of course. We’ve kind of had to limit ourselves because now we want to make timelines of EVERYTHING.
However, I’m also working on the Master Timeline. At the moment, it only includes events from the founding of Hogwarts on, and only those flagged as “Wizarding World.” That leaves out things like events like the Brockdale Bridge disaster, which are marked as Muggle World. We’ll be importing more events in the near future. In the meantime, I’m manually adding events and curating the ones that are there.
Over the next few months, you’ll see the Master Timeline and the specialized timelines grow and become more complete as I and the other editors do our work. We have other ideas as well for ways to improve the display. If you have suggestions for new timelines you’d like to see, let us know in the comments at the bottom of any page or using the Feedback link on the Lexicon menu.