A #WTF Story Map

Maps tell stories. Thanks to Kris Krug https://www.flickr.com/photos/kk/

The idea that a map can tell a story or illuminate a timeline is not new but it appeals to the geo evangelist in me. Nowadays it is pretty easy to produce a fairly slick map that tells a story.

  • The Knight Foundation have StoryMap JS which has some simple but elegant examples in its gallery like this Yahoo map of the World Cup nations. You could say that these maps are more about the images than the map but it is a neat way to tell the story and it works for me.
  • MapStory is an open source app that enables the user to build and share animated time sequence maps. Have a look at ‘The spread of the killer bees” for a good example but remember to switch the legend on or it really doesn’t tell you anything.
  • Esri offer their StoryMap service which fuses multimedia into elegantly curated stories which are a lot more than just another animated map. I like the approach of 10 National Parks threatened by oil trains for example.

Esri’s StoryMap really is sweet and building a story map using one of their templates looks pretty simple to me, I couldn’t find an animation option (which seems to be MapStory’s key differentiator) but maybe a bit of custom coding would get you there. MapStory feels a bit clunky and certainly the examples in the gallery don’t have the polished feel of StoryMaps or StoryMap JS (if you aren’t confused by the variants of ‘map’ and story’ yet you should be).

When one of the Esri twitter accounts pointed at a StoryMap I was expecting something pretty neat

Unfortunately this example shows that just loading points into a story map does not tell any story or add very much to the underlying data. This mass of pins and scrolling call out boxes with link-outs all over the place is just a mess, I am not sure what it is meant to be telling me or why Esri think this is a great example of their StoryMaps product. For non-Californians who don’t know him, Huell Howser was California’s answer to Michael Palin (but a little more constrained in terms of the places he visited), his programmes have something of a cult following.

Story Maps or Map Stories can communicate ideas either navigating via the map or linking a story line and images to the map or by animating timelines, they can be interactive multimedia spatial infographics (that sounds like I have signed up for the Esri marketing team) but they can also be really naff, crass and cartocrap [(c) Kenneth Field] if we aren’t careful

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