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Windows on Theory
Posted by Rob Knies
At 1 p.m. today, as it has almost every day for the past 179 years, the red time ball at the Royal Observatory Greenwich dropped from its Flamsteed House perch atop the prime meridian and adjacent to the River Thames. In the days before radio time signals, sailors were able to monitor the daily movement of the time ball to calibrate their chronometers and thereby obtain an accurate reckoning of their longitude while at sea.One hundred seventy-nine years—that’s the course of two lengthy human lives. How the observatory must have changed over that period. How its surroundings must have been altered, rebuilt, torn down, rebuilt anew. How can a mere mortal even contemplate such an extended span of time?That’s the crux of the research behind Project Greenwich, an effort by the Socio-Digital Systems (SDS) group at Microsoft Research Cambridge to enable users to create website timelines of any subject they fancy. Whether it’s the evolution of a historical event, observations about how a place has changed, or how your own life has developed, Project Greenwich offers utility to its users while enabling its researchers to learn how people think about time and how they approach the process of telling a story across time.