Combine interactive maps and scenes with rich multimedia content to weave stories that get noticed.
Storytellers often turn to maps to expand and illuminate their words. Maps are the visual representation of where events happen. As such, maps and stories complement each other, but until recently they have existed more as side-by-side products and not one thing. The big idea of this chapter is that with story maps they can now be one thing.
Story maps use geography as a means of organizing and presenting information. They tell the story of a place, event, issue, trend, or pattern in a geographic context. They combine interactive maps with other rich content—text, photos, video, and audio—within user experiences that are basic and intuitive. While many story maps are designed for general, non-technical audiences, some story maps can also serve highly specialized audiences. They use the tools of GIS, and often present the results of spatial analysis, but don’t require their users to have any special knowledge or skills in GIS. This has resulted in a veritable explosion of story maps. As you click through to the various story maps linked in the chapter, allow yourself the freedom to immerse yourself in the narrative. These are information products that reward exploration.
With today’s cloud-based mapping platform, the fusion of maps and stories has come of age. Consider the work of a venerable publication that has moved deftly into web delivery of their stories with Smithsonian.com.
The international Esri user community fuels a prolific information-creation engine, driving into view on the ArcGIS platform the most authoritative work on the world’s most pressing and serious issues. The imaginative use of story maps and the live examples featured on this page and in the Esri-curated Story Maps Gallery are designed to show the range of ways that such narratives convey information.
Storytelling carries the potential to affect change, influence opinion, create awareness, raise the alarm, and get out the news. The answer to the question of who authors story maps is anybody—any individual or group that wants to communicate effectively, including you. Here are a few examples, created by users just like you, to spur your imagination.
For most people sight is the dominant sense, so when it comes to information delivery, most like it served visually. One way to think about it is to consider that as information publishers we actually have relatively few ways to organize information. We can alphabetize it, but that’s not very much fun. We can arrange it by time, chronologically, but that has its limitations. We can organize knowledge taxonomically by category or hierarchically in some kind of ranking. And then we come to spatial organization, the system that arranges things by where they are. This one offers unique insights and the potential to visualize information. Organizing by location is a particularly interesting and useful way to marshal information.
Another reason why so many relate to maps and geography is that we have no choice but to think and see spatially. We have to make sense of our surroundings and navigate through our world. Maps make sense of things. They lend order to complex environments and they reveal patterns and relationships.
Maps can also be quite beautiful. They stimulate both sides of our brain: the right side that’s intuitive and aesthetic, and the left side that’s rational and analytical. Maps are this wonderful combination of both. It’s this neat marriage of utility and beauty that I find alluring.
Your first step is to think about what you want to communicate with your story map and what your purpose or goal is in telling the story. Who is your audience? Are you aiming your story at the public at large, or a more focused audience, like stakeholders, supporters, or specialists who would be willing to explore and learn about something in more depth?
Go to the Story Maps Gallery to see some examples handpicked by the Esri Story Maps team to inspire you and highlight creative approaches. You can filter and search the gallery to check out how authors have handled subjects and information that may well be similar to yours. Explore. Get a gut feel for what makes a good story.
Go to the Story Maps Apps to browse the application templates and choose the best one for your story map project. Each app lets you deliver a specific user experience to your audience. There are apps for map-based tours, collections of points of interest, in-depth narratives, presenting multiple maps, etc.
See the Tutorial tab for the story map application template you chose for instructions on how to proceed. For example, here is the Tutorial for the Story Map Journal application template.
When you’ve finished, you simply share your story map to launch it and make it go live. You can share it publicly or restrict it so it can be accessed only by people in your organization. To promote the story map to your audience, you can add links to it, embed it into your website, write a blog post about it, and share it on social media.
In these two lessons, you’ll go through the process of using an online photo gallery, or a gallery created with your own smartphone, to create a personal story map. We encourage you to use your own GPS-enabled device, but if you don’t have one or just want to do this as quickly as possible, then we have set up a Flickr account where you can grab the photos that we used and go from there.
Today’s smartphones and other GPS-enabled cameras capture (with surprisingly high accuracy) the location where each photo was taken. The geographic coordinates, called “geotags,” stay associated with the photos when you upload them to Flickr or another hosting environment, and can be used to quickly assemble a Photo Map Tour like this one in ArcGIS Online.
This project allows you to use your creativity to its fullest. In the first example, use a series of photographs taken along The Strand, a three-mile strip of beach in Los Angeles County renowned for its culture and beauty; or you can choose to recreate the geoportfolio of a photography student. In either case, you can use the provided photos or take your own.