littleBIG History Review
A short history of everything in one ambitious app
We’ve seen some ambitious projects attempted on the iPad. Some of these attempts are perhaps more creative and imaginative than we would have thought possible, and one that certainly surprised us when we first encountered it was littleBIG History, which essentially attempts to tell the story of our universe from the big bang to the predicted collapse of our Sun.
The simplest possible form for displaying such a huge period of time has been chosen, as the app is essentially an interactive timeline that can be expanded and scrolled through to see all of the key moments in the making of the universe, the development of humanity and the evolution of the world around us.
It’s a big-picture approach that some may find a little too broad for their tastes, but big history as a concept is growing in popularity as the human experience is re-examined with other natural history events in tandem.
According to the developer, the big history aspect of how this app would come together came after the initial thought of creating the timeline, so we’ll focus on that most important function first. The initial look of the timeline is packed as you might imagine, but it can be thinned out fairly easily. The intuitive gesture of spreading your fingers apart on the screen expands the distance between dates, and in so doing, reveals hidden slides at the bottom of the screen. These highlighted moments in history tend to be significant natural, social or scientific events. From the first amoebas to splitting the atom, and from the earliest recorded history to the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
We were a little disappointed by the brevity of each event, usually offering no more than a small amount of biographical information and a single image. There is often a link to Wikipedia, which will then open in-app so you can read more about the subject, but we would have liked to have seen some of this content funnelled through the app rather than in addition to it. Likewise, the visually pleasing nature of this app is let down a little by a shortage of photography and the small scale of what is on offer.
The reasoning behind these shortcomings though is fairly obvious, and makes it hard to treat criticisms as anything calamitous. When attempting to chronicle more than 12 billion years and hypothesise over 5 billion more, brevity has to be considered a virtue. The strength then of this timeline is not in its delivery of information, because there’s not much here, but in its visualisation of information. Being able to look at the entirety of our universe’s history in conjunction with that of Earth really puts into perspective how long we’ve been around.
As you pinch-zoom out from the screen to see both the big bang and the explosion of our Sun at the same time, the gap between the first humans to the present day is so small, you can’t even see it. It’s humbling to look at, and that’s a powerful, impressive thing to have achieved with this app.
So while it may not offer depth to match its breadth, littleBIG History still carries enough about it to surprise and elate. The shuffling tiles at the bottom of the screens, the highlighted streams of time that represent the lifespan of empires and important figures in human history, and the flashes of major events from around the globe bring a context to history that can often be lost in the myopia of typical historical study. This bigger picture point of view is a fascinating one, and something littleBIG History does a great job of capturing.
If this doesn’t inspire a greater interest in history then nothing will. A great piece of app design
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