This post was written by Megan Zavieh and originally published on Lawyerist.com on July 23, 2014.
One hurdle for small practices is acquiring technology that assists in complex matters without breaking the bank.
Ntrepid Timestream is a budding resource for organizing factual material electronically at an affordable price ($995 for a single-user one year license). Described simply, Timestream is a platform for creating an organized timeline of key case events, and linking electronic evidence to these events.
Software capable of organizing a large number of facts and documents into an easily accessible database is tremendously useful to small firms. BigLaw uses systems that do this, but they are extremely expensive and complex, frequently involving outside vendors to process, and code documents. Small firms, and their clients, don’t have the resources to do this despite their need for organized output.
When I heard about Ntrepid Timestream, I hoped it would compare to BigLaw systems, and really impress me. It simply did not.
What I found was that Ntrepid Timestream has great basic functionalities, but its limitations really take away from its usefulness. It is not going to help me compete with the big boys. I would like to see Timestream further developed, and then perhaps I would recommend the next version.
What Timestream Can Do Well
Despite my overall discontent with Timestream, there are definitely tasks it does well. To test it out, I first viewed sample cases provided by the company; then I created my file using an actual ongoing litigation. Mine is a moderately complex case involving fewer than one hundred individual events and documents.
Create a timeline: It is simple to create your own timeline by entering events from your case. If your documents are electronically stored, it is very easy to link to them. When you go to an event on your timeline, a link to the document related to the event is visible in a lower window, and the document can easily be opened. You can also include your own notes in a “summary” window. In fact, this step is so easy that it gave me the false impression that the output was going to be amazing.
Save data: A great plus when working in Timestream is that it constantly stores your work. There is no need to save, or risk losing any of your input.
View timeline in relevant scale: Your timeline can be visualized in various states of zoom, so you can see a large scale overview or a smaller period of time. This capability is important because the time relevant to any particular case varies. For instance, a stock scheme may have key events over a period of months or years, while a personal injury case may involve a critical period of only minutes.
Though I appreciate this feature, it is really clunky to use. You have to manually zoom in or out, and I found no way to make one portion of the timeline remain in one level of zoom while another is viewed differently. This would have made a big difference in my case, where most events matter only by the day or month, but for one day in the two-year period I need to see the events in hours.
Tags: For each event you enter, you can define your own “tags” to apply. You can tag an event with more than one user-defined tag, which I found very helpful. Using a Timestream tag filter, you can then choose which events to show based on their tags.
Bookmarks: Key events can be bookmarked for easy navigation. They appear on a separate list in the left-hand menu.
Timeframes v. Events: Most of the information entered in a timeline are individual events, but it can be useful to designate a longer period of time encompassing many events. Timestream allows users to do that using a “timeframe,” which is also bookmarked. My case has three distinct periods of time that are independent from one another, so this feature was useful.
Share projects: Timelines can be shared with other Timestream users, and because all of the files you attached to events become part of a single Timestream file, it is much more efficient than trying to electronically share the timeline itself, your notes, and all of your individual evidence files. Sharing can be through transfer of a file to removable media, or through Timestream’s server for nearly real-time collaboration. (I say “nearly” real-time because you must click a “sync” button in Timestream to send and receive updates to the timeline project. It has a function for resolving issues between users who have inputted conflicting information.)
What Timestream Lacks
As noted at the outset, I didn’t love the system, and these drawbacks are why.
No spell check or auto-fill: I found it irritating that there was no spell check in Timestream. Granted, a lot of case-specific information is going to contain proper names and abbreviations. However, typos really make the final output look juvenile. An auto- fill would be a welcome step in the right direction.
Time of day required: It seems like there must be a solution to this, but I could not find one. For any event entered in your timeline, you must include a time of day. Time of day may matter in certain cases, or even in certain events in a case. However, for my purposes the time of day was irrelevant. It is distracting and inaccurate to have times listed for things like letters received or written. I wanted to skip the time of day, but a time was necessary for every event by default (and not a consistent default like 12:00 a.m.).
Untitled events: I found in using Timestream that I was getting a lot of extra “untitled” events on my timeline. When entering an event, it shows as “untitled” until you give it a title. However, I had blank events all over. This resulted from me clicking the “add event” button, and then not actually adding any information on my next click. Timestream does not recognize that I chose to do something else instead, and records an empty event on whatever date that defaults in the new event window. I found it irritating to have to go back through my timeline, and delete the empty events.
Difficulty printing: I like to work in a mix of paper and electronic form, therefore I wanted to print my timeline when it was done. I wanted my printed copy to include the dates of all of my key events in order, details of the events, and a note of any documents attached. I thought it would be really awesome if that printing could even include the attached documents.
Unfortunately, Timestream’s answer is a simple text file that recites my text of each event, and its associated notes, but it really is not half as useful (and certainly not at all sexy-looking) as I hoped.
Somewhat better is the “presentation” option which generates a graphically-cool interactive version of the timeline in a browser window complete with links to embedded documents, but it doesn’t print well.
A simple file-print command does not work for my purposes, either. This printed only the timeline, not any detailed information, and only the exact portion showing on my screen. It even highlighted the event I was viewing just as it was highlighted on my screen, as if I tried printing a screen shot. Events are shown as dots within the month in which they occurred, so I had no details on my printout of the specific dates.
Help is not helpful: The online help tool did not provide me with answers to many of my issues. Additionally, it was also not reasonably searchable. For instance, in trying to figure out if I could generate a report, I tried searching “print,” and got nothing. I searched the phrase “print out timeline” in quotes, and got 25 results, none of which dealt with printing.
Wait For New Release
I think Timestream is a good start on a product I would use, but it still has a number of issues to resolve. It is a work-in-progress, and not quite yet ready for prime-time. If the issues listed here were addressed, I would likely spend $995 to use it for a year.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
The post Ntrepid Timestream Interactive Timeline Software Review appeared first on Ethics and California State Bar defense lawyer Megan Zavieh.
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