ChronoZoom challenge: visualize history and win

I love my job! Why? Because, as manager of Games for Learning and Digital Humanities at Microsoft Research Connections, I get to explore four of my favorite things: games, art, technology, and education.

This week is especially exciting for me, because yesterday, we launched the Microsoft ChronoZoom Visualizing Challenge, which unites all four of these passions. Even better, it offers you the opportunity to participate—and maybe win a great prize (see disclaimer). Microsoft is sponsoring a challenge to create visualizations that (1) use ChronoZoom datasets and (2) provide new functions that have been requested by educators and students in our pilot programs. Read the Official Rules and register to enter the challenge.

ChronoZoom: for the dynamic visualization of data

So, how does this competition bring my four favorite things together? Allow me to explain:


A challenge is defined as a game of skill. There is no chance involved. We will provide all contestants with the same dataset and the same basic information. You can use a wide variety of tools to create either a static or a dynamic visualization of the challenge data.


The challenge is all about creating beautiful visualizations. In this regard, I would suggest that beautiful should be defined as “elegant, refined, and functional.” The visualizations should be simple enough for middle school students to use and understand, but powerful enough to enable these students to draw deep insights.


ChronoZoom’s robust, innovative technology is the result of three years of collaboration between Microsoft Research, the University of California at Berkeley, Moscow State University, the University of Washington, and researchers and historians around the world. ChronoZoom is a free, open source, community-owned project designed to run on any modern browser.


ChronoZoom was originally intended as an tool for teaching Big History, which is to say the history of life, humanity, the Earth, the cosmos—everything that’s happened during the last 13.8 billion years. Recently, we’ve shifted the focus to general history education, adapting ChronoZoom to empower teachers at middle schools and high schools, giving them a powerful tool for explaining complex concepts of causality and ambiguity in historical thinking. We are following a standards-aligned curriculum we’ve developed in partnership with the National Council for Social Studies, the American Historical Association, the University of North Carolina, and a group of talented curriculum developers and subject matter experts.

Challenge criteria

You can enter by yourself or in a team of up to five people. If you work at a design firm and want to enter, please be sure you (or your company) meet our eligibility guidelines with respect to the public sector (see disclaimer).

An independent third-party organization,, will assemble a panel of expert judges to evaluate the entries according to the following criteria:

  • Utility and flexibility: How easy is it to use and understand the visualization? Can it be adapted to other datasets?
  • Creativity and beauty: Does the visualization demonstrate a novel approach to the problem? Is the solution presented in an elegant, polished way?
  • Accessibility and openness: Is the entry open source? Does it work on all browsers?

In addition, there will be two special prizes: a Student Prize and an Infographic Prize. The Student Prize will be awarded to the best entry made by a student or an all-student team. The Infographic Prize will go to the best non-interactive entry. This can just be a beautiful image that illuminates the data by using the creative tools of your choice.


Entries will be eligible to win the following prizes:

First Place: US$5,000 and a trip to Moscow (the one in Russia, not Idaho!) to meet with a ChronoZoom designer/coder/programmer

Second Place: US$2,750

Third Place: US$1,500

Student Prize: US$300. If a student team wins, each student will receive $300, up to $1,500 maximum (for a team of five).

Infographic Prize: US$1,000

You can probably tell that I am thrilled to have the opportunity to invite you to take part in this challenge. It will be lots of fun and, best of all, the visualizations that are developed will be available for educators and student around the world to better understand history and concepts of historical thinking. If you are a developer, enter the challenge! If not, stick around and we will share all the entries with you once the challenge is over! The challenge runs from 11:01 A.M. Eastern Time (ET) on November 5, 2013, and ends at 11:59 P.M. ET on January 8, 2014. Register now!

Donald Brinkman, Manager, Games for Learning and Digital Humanities, Microsoft Research Connections

Learn more


Disclaimer: Open only to individuals 18 years of age or older who are currently enrolled as students at an accredited educational institution that grants college/university degrees (a “University”), or individuals 18 and older who are employed at an accredited educational institution that grants college/university degrees and who do not make procurement decisions in their employment, or individuals 18 and older who are employed at a private sector company and who do not engage in procurement or regulatory activities in their employment. Individuals may enter individually or in teams of up to five (5). Private sector companies that do not engage in procurement or regulatory activities with any public sector agency may also enter as well. Challenge ends at 11:59 P.M. ET on January 8, 2014. . (Back to blog)

Comments (3)
  1. Yingzhong Xu says:


    I have a few questions about the ChronoZoom challenge but I don’t know whom I should write to, this is the only contact I can find on your blog 

    I’m actually a little confused about the data of WWI you have provided, since there is ony one timeline in the timelines.xlsx but a lot of timelines related in exhibits.xlxs, and from my perspective, it seems that a lot of items in contentitems.xlxs are not actually related to the WWI.

    So, could you please provide some explanation about the data you’ve provided , thanks very much!

  2. ksemyan says:

    Hi Yingzhong!

    Thank you for your interest in the contest.  Once you register for the contest you will be provided with a way to ask questions and get answers directly.  Regarding this initial question, here is a little explanation: The ChronoZoom WW1 dataset is captured at the ‘collection’ level, and as such a number of timelines besides WW1 is reflected in the data.  By examining the parent timeline one can link the data together and isolate the WW1 parts.  We hope this helps!  Good luck with the contest!


    Donald Brinkman

    Microsoft Research Connections


  3. Create a more visually engaging learning experience for students with Chronozoom's time-based data visualization.

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