Software legend Andy Hertzfeld–one of the architects of the original Mac OS–works at Google now, and today the company unveiled one of his efforts: Google News Timeline, a Google Labs service for searching news and other information sources by timeframe. It’s still clearly an experimental work in progress, not a core Google service. But being able to search the Web in a chronological fashion ranks high on the list of useful ideas that haven’t been fully implemented yet, and Hertzfeld’s work is a tantalizing step forward.
Timeline Search’s sources include the Google News Archive, newspapers such as the St. Petersburg Times and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; magazines such as TIME (covers only), Popular Science, Vegetarian Times, and Baseball Digest; blogs, Wikipedia, sports scores, and more. As the service’s name tells you, results are displayed in a timeline format, and you can scroll back and forth in time and view information by day, year, week, month, or decade. Here’s a search I did by decade for Iran, which gave me a revealing 10,000-foot view of news coverage of that country in ten-year chunks:
Timeline Search also works for more specialized research. Here are results that show the Beatles’ music in the 1960s year-by-year, and some Red Sox scores from one particular week in 1980:
In this first version, Timeline Search feels a bit like a search engine that requires you to use advanced mode to get much out of it–it’s taken me some fiddling and experimenting to make it work. For instance, the search field at the top is used for search keywords in some instances, and to specify news sources in others, and you can’t figure out what newspapers and magazines are available without searching for them by name. I hope that Google forges ahead both on refining the interface and adding more sources–all those books, magazines, and newspapers that the company is scanning are ideal fodder for time-oriented search. And I’m glad they have Andy Hertzfeld on the job. Here’s his own blog post on his brainchild.