• Joseph Kerski

Creating a Story Map

Learn how to create your own story map using free Esri software and start sharing your unique geographies!


Why story maps?

What makes you and/or your community unique? Each community, family, or person has a rich and diverse history, set of experiences, and links to geography. This richness can be communicated in a compelling way using multimedia through maps. Today’s maps, through the evolution of geographic technologies to the cloud, are dynamic, easy to update, can incorporate real-time information, and can be interacted with by the map reader. These dynamic web maps can also be integrated with audio, video, text, scanned images, and narratives through web applications known as Story Maps. Story maps take advantage of the power that maps have had for centuries to tell compelling stories, to help people understand their world, and to inspire exploration and care for the planet.

What can story maps do?

Story maps can incorporate thematic maps on topics such as ecoregions, watersheds, demographics, or natural hazards, as well as base maps such as satellite imagery or Open Street Map. Story maps can cover a single scale or a variety of scales from local to global, and communicate about any region of the world. Story maps can be built using a variety of templates that can be configured to the needs of the creator of the map and tailored to communicate well to the intended audiences. These templates include the ability to swipe across the map in a “squeegee” effect, showing different map themes on the left and right sides of the map, such as median age versus median income. Or, the left and right sides can show the same variable in two different time periods, such as housing occupancy or land use. Another type of story map is the map tour, which can describe a community or place using videos and photographs tied to a live web map. Story maps can incorporate tabs or bullet points, each of which may cover a different topic about a place or a different region discussing the same set of variables. Story maps can incorporate real-time data, such as streamflow from gauging stations, live web cam images or videos, weather, or social media feeds on current events. Story maps can also show data collected from citizen science or crowdsourcing efforts, such as trees, invasive species, litter, traffic or pedestrian counts, weather observations, or water quality samples.

Story maps can also incorporate qualitative data about communities that conveys the sense of place through interviews and/or personal narratives. As an example of a story map that describes a place-based community project, I recently created a story map on the “Famous Boots of Wimberley, Texas”. This beautiful small community of about 4,000 people in the Texas Hill Country started as a trading post settlement in 1848. The people of the town of Wimberley began a project in 2014 called “Bootiful Wimberley” as a way to highlight community arts and enhance cultural tourism there. A series of 10 foot (3 meter) tall cowboy boot statues quickly expanded to 50 boots total a year later. Each boot is sponsored by at least one local business and organization, and is lovingly painted by area artists. When I visited the town in early 2016, I was amazed at the beauty of the paintings, the size of the boots, and the fact that none of the boots had been vandalized in any way—on the contrary, it was evident that they were all well cared for. They were polished and in prime condition, despite being in public places and often along the sides of busy streets. The best thing about the boots is that each of them is a story unto its own: Each tells a unique story about the community and about the region’s birds, ecoregions, history, water, and many other topics.

How do I get started? Here are the guidelines for creating a Story Map Tour.

1. Take some time to browse through the possibilities of story maps here. (NOTE: Story Maps will work on any computer and in any browser. There is no cost and no additional software required.)

2. Spend some time considering what story you might like to tell. Possibilities include: a recent vacation, favorite restaurants in your hometown, places with special memories for your family, a story map of all the concerts you have gone to - the story is yours!

3. Consider what you will need to tell your story. You will need to know locations, gather images and/or videos, consider what captions you will write to explain the story, and decide on the order for your story. Please note that any images/videos must be stored online (flickr, Facebook, Google Picasa, YouTube).

4. To start making the story map you must create a free account here.

5. Edit your profile as you like.

6. Then go to the story map homepage here and login. In the upper left, you will see Story Maps. Click on the lines to the left of the words Story Maps to expand the menu. Then select My Stories.

7. Then you will see "Create My First Story." You may follow the guidelines from here. The 'easiest' story map to start out with is the Map Tour (the first one on the list).

8. Let's practice with some of my material:

  • Choose Map Tour

  • Then choose Google Picasa as the source of your images and enter: jkerski@esri.com

  • Under public album select "A walk to the San Diego airport geotagged" and then "import"

  • Practice editing the captions, changing the basemap, and reordering the photos

  • Click Save and share with everyone!

  • If you want to add a video instead of a photo: Change 1 image to video: Go to “Joseph at historical sailing ship” photo > Change Media > Video > URL: Go to www.youtube.com/geographyuberalles > Search Channel for video Star of India > Open the first Star of India video > Share >Embed > copy and paste the embed code https://www.youtube.com/embed/llGSCmeDJao into the URL > Apply; test it.

If you would like to take an online course (free, 1 hour) please click here. Or, for a 10-module course (also free), click here.

We would love to see your story maps! Please share links to your story maps in the comments section.

Joseph J. Kerski, PhD., GISP, is Geographer and Education Manager at Esri and an instructor at the University of Denver. His website may be found here.

#Storymap #maps

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