By Jaimi Dowdell, IRE training director

If you’ve ever been involved in an investigative story or in-depth project, you understand how important chronology can be. I’ve often sketched timelines on notebooks, napkins or white boards. For trickier tasks or more data, I’ve turned to Excel, but I’ve never been completely satisfied with how it works.

TimeFlow, released last week, just might change all that. Funded by Duke University, the minds behind this project include IRE Board member Sarah Cohen, Fernanda Viegas and Martin Wattenberg. It’s free and open source; you can find it here. To install, download and unzip the files to your computer – it really is that simple.

Importing data is easy with CSV files. Data in TimeFlow can be viewed as a timeline, calendar, bar chart and other formats. Features include a filtering option. You can also see frequencies and spot missing values. I expected the tool to be much more complicated, but within 20 minutes, I was able to install the software and create a timeline of IRE’s upcoming training events.

Here’s the calendar view of IRE’s August events:

And the bar chart displaying frequencies of the different types of events: Bar chart displaying frequencies of the different types of events

Whether you enjoy working with data or not, I recommend giving this tool a shot. (Tip: If you’d like to see what it can do but don’t feel like messing with your own data, they’ve included an “examples” menu with sample datasets already loaded.)