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Four easy steps to create engaging and informative story maps

Story maps are a simple and effective way of communicating information. There are a lot of tools, templates and technology available to make and publish your own story maps. Read this blog to find out more about these easy to create and effective to communicate story maps.

Have you ever wanted to show your clients or the general public maps, photographs of various locations or even statistics about places? These days, the easiest and simplest way to effectively get geographic information to your clients is via the client’s Internet browser because almost everyone has Internet-accessible devices, and people are familiar with using their favorite web browser. Most of your clients have the capability to view web information but how do you entice them to visit your site in the first place, and then revisit on an ongoing basis?

One of the easiest ways of providing clear and interesting content is an Esri story map - a web application that combines maps with narrative text, images and multimedia in a simple yet attractive manner. Story map applications are designed to be visually engaging, informative and user-friendly.

To make a story map, you first need to decide on an effective topic. The topic and its geography can be broad such as the Arctic, Canada’s infrastructure, geography or demographics or even viewing Canada from space, or a narrow topic such as neighborhood animal sightings, fires, storms, elections or local festivals.

 To start, pick a story map topic that you have good supporting information for. Next, these four steps can help you in building a useful and appealing story map:

1. Choose your design – There are many ways of sharing your story by using text and visuals in an engaging way. How about getting some ideas and checking examples of how others have done it? You can browse a range of story map examples in the demo application gallery, covering many applications, uses and topics. This will help you define your story map design.

There are plenty of story map examples on the Esri Canada Website.

2. Choose your template – Go to the story maps template list where you can browse a variety of application templates and choose one that best suits your requirements.  Not only are each of these templates easy to use but apps for displaying information such as map-based tours, collections of points of interest, in-depth narratives, presenting multiple maps, and more make it fun and engaging.

You can examine different Story Map templates to determine the one that works best for your story.

3. Follow instructions – Each story map template has a tutorial page that guides you through the authoring process. The Story Map apps are hosted in ArcGIS Online and have interactive builders that make it easy to author your story. You can add your data to ArcGIS Online web maps and combine it with authoritative data published by Esri and many other leading agencies. You also have the option to download the source code for any of the apps and configure it on your own web server. This enables developers to customize and tailor the open source app.

Simple story map showing the highest points of Canadian provinces and territories. Note that this map is a rotatable globe that provides a novel and elegant feature to the story map.

4. Publish and promote – Once you've finished developing your story map, you simply need to publish it by sharing the app in ArcGIS Online. You can choose to make the story map public or private by simply restricting its accessibility. Before publishing it publicly, it’s a good idea to invite your coworkers to give you feedback on the look, feel, correctness and usability of the final product. Many people like to promote their story map on social media, website or even their blog.

Example of a story map on an Arctic spatial data project related to food policy issues that was promoted via an SDI blog post.

Local governments can make story maps about zoning, garbage pickups, election polling stations, economic development and public works. Utilities often need story maps about current and planned power outages or service disruptions. It’s important to have a simple but useful story map topic so that clients can quickly and easily get the information they need online, thus reducing telephone hotline use.

This holiday season, give your first story map a try and you will find out how simple it is to make and how effective it is for communicating information.


About the Author

Gordon Plunkett is the Spatial Data Infrastructure (SDI) Director at Esri Canada. He has more than 30 years of experience in GIS and Remote Sensing in both the public and private sectors. He currently sits as a member of the Community Map of Canada Steering Committee, GeoAlliance Canada Interim Board of Directors, the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Technical Committee, the Canadian General Standards Board (CGSB) Committee on Geomatics, the University of Laval Convergence Network Advisory Committee and the Advisory Board to the Carleton University Geomatics and Cartographic Research Centre. During his career, Gordon has worked on projects in more than 20 countries and has contributed to numerous scientific conferences and publications. At Esri Canada, he is responsible for developing and supporting the company’s SDI vision, initiatives and outreach, including producing content for the SDI blog.

Profile Photo of Gordon Plunkett