In an era of blogging and vlogging, sharing and publicizing your work in an engaging way has never been so crucial, no matter it is a research work or just a story in your personal experience. And the audience, like you and me, have become very picky about the visual expression of the contents. We all know that a good presentation takes effort, from website design to content preparation, but not everyone has the interest or energy to spend time on creating a well-designed website and incorporating it with multi-media contents of their work. So in many cases, you will find yourself in a position between the content producer (e.g. researchers, writers) and a presentation producer (e.g. web designer, cartographer). In many fields, a map can be a focus of the presentation, including history, geography, economics, sociology, and many physical and social sciences, incorporating digital maps in your presentation and storytelling makes things even more complicated.

That’s why we are introducing ESRI Story Maps, a powerful tool with many well-designed templates to create a website to showcase your work and tell a story. And it is also the best way to incorporate maps and other spatial data of your work with other formats of contents easily even for beginners. Moreover, it is free and requires zero coding. One can easily feed all types of contents of his or her work into Story Maps templates and get a shareable link. If you are an advanced user and familiar with coding for websites, you can easily embed your work in the format of the script in Story Maps.

Although ESRI is the leading software company in the world of Geographical Information Sciences (GIS) and Story Maps provides great support to ESRI’s own web-based mapping platform ArcGIS Online, users with little or no map elements in their work can just focus on STORY rather than MAPS while taking advantage of many useful features from ESRI Story Maps. Story Maps offers many well-designed templates as containers of your contents, like videos, pictures, or just plain text. The biggest difference between the templates is the way of transition between sections in your story. It can be only a few tabs for your audience to click through or a flow that leads your audience into your story by scrolling. What you need are contents to be fed into the templates and a storyline in your mind. ESRI provides a guide of templates and a gallery of Story Maps that can direct you to the best one for your work or story.

If you would like to take advantage of the map element in Story Maps, the best option is to create maps using ESRI’s own ArcGIS Online. Story Maps can easily embed these maps into the templates. There are pros and cons of using ArcGIS Online. The good part is that ArcGIS Online offers a great variety of base map selection and a very powerful tool to add and visualize your geographical data, such as addresses, latitudes and longitudes, and professional format of GIS data (Shapefile). You can also enrich your data collection by searching with keywords in ArcGIS Online for ready-to-go geographical data, including maps with socioeconomic data from the U.S. Census Bureau and a number of other topics. 

However, the bad part is that not everyone has time to learn a new tool and it does not penetrate into the general public well enough like Google Maps. This disadvantage makes collaborative work more difficult. Most people have no problem to add a few points of interest in a map powered by Google Maps, making it much easier to let your team members collect and update simple geographical information. However, it is not the case with ArcGIS Online. Luckily, Story Maps can also corporate with other map-making platforms like Google Maps. You can still create a map in Google Maps and invite your team members to add new data, then embed this map to Story Maps (with a shareable link or embed script block generated by Google Maps automatically). In this scenario, Story Maps works as a container of your maps created elsewhere but keeps all the useful features like the template, the shareable link, and the convenience of zero coding.

Story Maps is free, and it can be used in almost any topic. Students can even use Story Maps to create an online resume to showcase their experiences. A tourism department can create a convenient tour for visitors. Digital humanities became an active playground of Story Maps since its launch, not to mention many other fields in physical and social sciences. If you have a story to tell and works to share, Story Maps is always a helpful tool to consider because of its zero coding feature and well-designed templates to make your story active. 

In the end, if you would like to give ESRI Story Maps a try on your own storytelling and work sharing, feel free to check out the resource sheet of Story Maps and the slides by Dr. Shenyue Jia during the Open House of Chapman Tech Hub in early October 2018.

Enjoy storytelling (and mapping)!