A timeline of the entire history of the universe would be, like, long. Which is fine, unless you want a way to see all of it and say, the tiny span of human history within it, or even like a specific date, say, 1945. You’re talking about such an infinitesimal point, there’s no way you’d be able pick it out on a timeline that expansive.
Unless you zoom in.
Which is the idea ChronoZoom, an open source project developed by Microsoft Research, Outercuve, UC Berkeley and Moscow State University. It’s a look at Big History (“history on large scales across long time frames through a multidisciplinary approach”), using what MSR calls an “infinite canvas of time.” You can zoom out to see the entire history of the universe. Or you can zoom in, continuously, to a specific point in time or event — the Paleolithic period or the Middle Ages or July 4, 1776. It’s time on a sliding scale, or all time scales, simultaneously. It’s also just a way to organize the vast amount of information there is about the history of universe — which is a lot — in a way that’s manageable and easily understood, from a conceptual and navigational standpoint. You can’t do this with a book.
(That’s the half of the project that faces outward, to you. The other half is getting the academic community to contribute to fill it with as much stuff as possible. More on that here, if you’re interested.)
This is zoom on a different level than we’re used to in our smartphones’ and tablets’ photo apps, though. It’s not merely optical zoom, getting tighter toward pixels or cells, it’s actually a rearrangement and reconfiguration of data based on semantic zoom levels. It’s actually a way to see more, not just closer. Which is a metaphor that’s more and more common, and it’s probably not going anywhere: We just have more and more data to look at and sometimes we need a little (or a lot of) context for it all.