Which Story Mapping Platform is Right For You?

Storymap Smackdown

I’ve been working on comparing varying story mapping platforms over the past few weeks on my blog, with the end goal being to create a guide for folks who need a story map but aren’t sure which platform will work best. Four of the most popular story mapping platforms available–Esri Storymaps, StoryMap JS, Neatline, and Odyssey.js–can all give your narrative a geographical context, and each one has perks and features that can further elevate the story you want to tell.

StoryMap JS
If your project simply needs a generic map with a narrative, then StoryMap JS is hands down the easiest option. There is little in the way of customization (the only real choice is the base map), but the authoring tool is very easy to use. One possible complaint about StoryMap JS is that there is no way to change the color of pins that are used, but to be honest, the color palette that StoryMap JS comes with is really attractive. If you don’t need complex functionality, this will probably be the best looking option. It also scales well on small screens, so it can be embedded on sites that are intended to be used on mobile devices.

StoryMap JS

Odyssey.js is another option if your project is simple; like StoryMap JS, it doesn’t allow much in the way of customization. The difference is that Odyssey.js uses a markdown language, which can be a real turn off if you don’t like working with anything resembling code. However, you can add multiple points and images for a single portion of the narrative, so if HTML and CSS don’t seem scary, then Odyssey can be pretty useful. Additionally, Odyssey is the only platform with support for Torque, so if you need time-based animations then Odyssey is worth considering.


Neatline, unlike Odyssey.js and StoryMap JS, has many more moving parts. If you’re familiar with Omeka–or even better, if your resources for your project are already part of an Omeka exhibit–then Neatline is an excellent choice. If you want to incorporate a timeline, or when there is a ton of metadata involved that you would like to feature, then Neatline shines. It has the added benefit of allowing the use of historical maps laid over the base map for reference, and has support for vector data. A drawback is you may need web hosting which supports Omeka and Neatline if you don’t already have it up and running.


Esri Storymaps
Esri Storymaps are the most heavy duty platforms of the bunch, mostly due to their robust GIS roots and well fleshed out feature list. The Esri web apps can all be built on an Esri Web map, meaning that all of the processing power available from ArcGIS Online can make its way into the final project. There are a few different platform layouts available from Esri, such as the Storymap Tour, the Storymap Journal, and the Storymap Series, as well as a wide variety of other web apps that may end up being more useful to your project than a story map.

Esri Storymap

When I tested these platforms, I used a basic narrative and picture combo about the history of jazz music, which had four essential components: locations, a text based description, a general time period, and an image for each. My goal was to use the exact same data and put it into each of the platforms listed above for an apples to apples comparison, and then share my experiences, which you can find here.

So what about your project? Let’s dive into a hypothetical story map in which you toured Europe and decided to make a story map detailing the trip.

I want to…

Just tell a story with some map pins and pictures
Since this is a fairly simple project, Odyssey.js would work very well, as the markdown would not be too complicated. Alternatively, if the markdown language Odyssey.js uses is still a little too intimidating, the StoryMap is a great bet, due to its user friendly authoring tool.

Tell a story using some other media that I hosted elsewhere
StoryMap JS allows users to embed media from sites such as YouTube and Vimeo, so you can easily include video taken during the trip. StoryMap JS even allows the use of SoundCloud files, so you could record and include audio narrations, or recordings taken on location.

Use my GPS data to tell the story
If you used a GPS tracker during your trip (or even tweeted plenty of geolocated tweets), then you can use that data to create animations of your route using Odyssey.js and Torque. The process of grooming information into something that CartoDB can use for Torque is a little more technical than the previous scenarios, but the end result can look very cool.

Craft a narrative around items that I stored in an Omeka database
What if you have an Omeka database with various paintings that your viewed during your trip? Neatline is an extension for Omeka, which has the downside of being very complicated if you don’t already use Omeka; however, it becomes a natural choice if you already have an Omeka database. Using the items from your Omeka database is as easy as loading Neatline and linking it to the database.

Tell a story, but with some harder data
Imagine that during your trip you decide that your story will focus on the economic differences throughout the Eurozone; being in Greece was much different than being in Germany. Esri offers many datasets through ArcGIS Online that can augment your narrative, and it’s easy to bring your own data in from the ArcMap desktop software. That way, heavy analysis can be done in ArcMap, and then when that data is brought into ArcGIS Online a story map can be made to help explain that analysis.

Do something else!
If you have some other story map that you’d like to make and aren’t sure of how to go about it, get in touch with us through our Facebook page, and we’ll help you get started.

Building a better trail map…


Skidmore College North Woods Trail Map
A map of the Skidmore College North Woods trails that was updated in Summer 2015

For a long time, the trail map for the old Skidmore College North Woods Trail Map has been not up to my personal cartographic standards. Originally developed by Bob Jones and Alex Chaucer a few years ago, multiple versions had been edited and what was the North Woods map had lost it’s original lustre and shine. But today, we have a new map that we all can be proud of.

Working the North Woods Steward, Katie Cuthbert, we took on the challenge of updating the old map. Features we have added: consistent fonts, iconography for kiosks and parking, stakeholder logos, simplified layout, clean trail marker numbers for on trail location, and trail length estimates. We hope you find the map useful.

Can you think of anything else you would like to see on the map? Feel free to add a comment or send a suggestions to achaucer AT skidmore.edu. I’ll also post a copy of the map on our GIS Center Facebook page if you want to comment there.

Happy Trails!


Summer Progress Update June 15, 2015

Completed installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College
Completed installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College

As of June 15, 2015, the summer is off to a good start in the GIS Center. We have completed the first module in the Data Science Toolkit from Johns Hopkins, and are set up for utilizing R and Github. There has been numerous GIS requests for summer research projects which are keeping the daily flow of traffic moving in the GIS Center. Additionally, we have begun some collaborations with the Sustainability Office and the MDOCS Storytellers’ Institute, supporting their mapping needs, as well as assisting with the Urban Forestry project website redesign. Physically in the GIS Center, we have a new full size wall map and a new flat file map cabinet in our printer room (Thank you to the great facilities folks, George Sperow and Michael Wicks, who assisted with the install). Alex Jackson, the Lab Assistant for Summer 2015, has completed 6 ESRI Virtual Training courses, including Python for Everybody and a rigorous course in spatial analysis, and earned certificates in expanding his geospatial knowledge.

Installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College
Installation of new wall sized map in the GIS Center at Skidmore College

Creative Commons License
GIS Center Wall Map Installation Photos by Alex Chaucer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://academics.skidmore.edu/blogs/onlocation/files/2015/06/MapUp.jpg and
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing achaucer AT skidmore.edu

Researching Data Analytics for GIS

This summer in the GIS Center we are expanding the center’s capacity as we research data analytics in the context of GIS and data science related programming languages. To this end, we are focusing on two emerging geospatial tools, ArcGIS Online and CartoDB for web based mapping applications, as well as adopting R, Python, and SQL for more in depth data analysis.

In order to accomplish our goals, we currently have one main project that will be a collaboration with another summer student researcher that focuses on CartoDB and applying SQL queries for a local community project called the Sustainable Saratoga Urban Forestry Project. We will also be learning about database design through an online textbook and tutorials.

Additionally, we will be utilizing online ESRI training to explore the Python capabilities in ArcGIS Desktop, while also utilizing CodeAcademy for Python training, and an online course through the University of Michigan called Programming for Everybody (Python).

For R training, we are focusing on a series of courses through Johns Hopkins called the data science specialization, which introduces a data science toolkit, and quickly focuses on R for working with large datasets. We may also supplement with a course offered through codeschool as an introduction to R.

By the end of the summer, our hopes are that we are able to have an understanding of more advanced GIS storytelling and visualization, while also having a broad understanding of industry-standard data science tools and how they apply to geospatial data sets for analysis.

If you are interested in following along on our summer progress, please visit our Facebook page.


Image attribution: “Popular Science – Process” by Flickr user Jer Thorp shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License (CC by 2.0)


JOB POSTINGS – Now hiring people who want to change the world.

Now Hiring


Image Credit Nathan Stephans on Flickr.  CC BY-SA 2.0Some Rights Reserved. Link to original.

I’m not kidding.

In the Data Visualization and Mapping Center (Library 227) we take that seriously. We know that to change the world, we need to make informed decisions. We know that to make good decisions, you need to communicate your data effectively. The best way to communicate your data effectively is to visualize it and present it in a compelling way to your audience.

We have three openings currently posted for jobs relating to the Center.

1) Summer position:
Summer Instructional Technology Assistant – GIS
Hours: This SUMMER 8:30AM to 4:30PM, Monday through Friday
Pay: $13/hour
Contact: Apply online at the link above

Description: The individual in this position will assist with hands on mapping and data visualization related activities, in the field as well as working with web-based mapping platforms, such as ArcGIS Online and CartoDB. They will also be involved with data collection (Fulcrum), backing up data, digitizing instructional materials, and assisting with GIS analysis. The ideal candidate may also have WordPress, Adobe design experience, and some applied web-based programming experience. The ability to communicate with people of varying levels of technical ability is a must. The candidate needs to be organized, reliable,and able to work independently. This position will assist as needed for drop in requests in the Academic Technologies Center or GIS Center.

2) Lab Assistant
Hours: 5-10 hours a week for the academic semesters in the 2015/2016 school year
Pay: $9.50/hour
Contact: email achaucer@skidmore.edu to set up interview

Description: The student assistant works to support students and faculty while working in the lab while also working on independent projects. All assistants will teach at least one technology workshop each semester. Projects may involve web based mapping, developing tutorials, programming, advanced GIS, and applied community project work.

3) Instructional Technologist Apprentice in the NY6 ITAP Program
Hours: 10 hours a week for the academic semesters in the 2015/2016 school year
Pay: $9.50
Contact: Apply above at the link above

Description: This position works closely with instructional technologists and faculty to perform the following: Assist faculty and staff with software applications and digital content creation (i.e. Blackboard, WordPress, iMovie, iPhoto, Adobe Creative Suite, QuickTime, Garageband, etc.) This apprenticeship position is a part of the NY6 ITAP initiative which provides the student with a paraprofessional experience in the field of instructional technology. The incumbent will participate in a structured training program that will be offered collaboratively by the New York Six Educational Technology Group. Ongoing communications, collaborations, and meetings (face-to-face and virtual) will take place with other apprentices in the program.

If you are interested please take the first step and apply now. If you have any questions, please contact achaucer@skidmore.edu.

Create Maps With ArcGIS Online

Come learn how to get started with ArcGIS Online! Here’s a link to the facebook event to let us know you are coming.

Creating Maps With ArcGIS Online

Spring Workshops at the Skidmore Data Visualization and Mapping Center announced!

This is the GIS Center spring workshop series - event descriptions, dates, times


It’s that time of year! The birds are flying north, the grass is getting greener, and the our Spring workshops are in full bloom! All workshops are held in the GIS Center on the second floor of the library, room 227. If you see a workshop you like, please sign up here and let us know. If that workshop hasn’t been posted as an event yet, like the page and you will see the event announcement as the date gets closer. Mappy Spring!

Humanitarian Mapping Workshop this week!

Humanitarian Workshop Poster for workshop on Wednesday, April 8th in the ICC at 7pm, GIS Center at 8pm
Learn how to do remote mapping.

Come learn how to do some remote mapping that makes a difference with Joh and Themba. Here’s the FB event for this student to student workshop and if you want to learn more on your own, check out our site gisforhumanity for some guidance on getting started.

Highlight on Student-Faculty Research: Rebuilding a Political World with GIS

Cheshire County, New Hampshire

Note: Click on map above to view animation in its own window.

History Professor Eric Morser and Skidmore student Niki Deininger (Class of ’15) have teamed up to make unique historical maps that recreate the political setting of a New Hampshire county in the 1830s. Some fascinating maps have been produced by this team using ArcMap and a GIF animation program. CartoDB and Geocommons were also evaluated for possible map data visualization opportunities.

The maps will be used in Professor Morser’s book, The Fires of New England: A Tale of Power and Protest on an American Frontier. This book focuses on a single document signed by twenty men in Cheshire County, New Hampshire, in 1834. According to these men, lawyers had seized control of the state government, taken advantage of the state constitution, undermined democracy, and threatened to destroy the revolutionary dreams of America’s founders. In response, the twenty men proposed that universal education and a well-schooled population could thwart the deceitful efforts of the attorneys and judges and revitalize the state’s revolutionary heritage.

Mapping in the GIS Center. left to right: Prof. Eric Morser, Alex Chaucer, Niki Deininger. Photo credit: Stacey Mattison
Mapping in the GIS Center left to right: Prof. Eric Morser, Alex Chaucer, Niki Deininger Photo credit: Stacey Mattison

Professor Morser attempts to locate this single document in its larger historical context and explain why these men produced it when they did. With the help of Niki and Alex Chaucer, the political world of the 1830s was rebuilt through maps containing Cheshire County election data. A map from 1833 was used along with gubernatorial voting data found in local newspapers. These maps visually show a large shift in the county’s politics; preference of the traditionalism of Federalist politicians dwindled as preference of the radical democratic principles of Andrew Jackson Republicans emerged. The resulting map reproduces the original map from 1833 and contains colors that correspond with the percentage of votes in five gubernatorial elections.

The GIS methodology for this project involved a digital recreation of historic New Hampshire with election data that had been collected from that time period, utilizing ArcMap, the GIS software. A historic New Hampshire map was utilized, representing the boundaries from that time period. This was georeferenced to current New Hampshire town boundaries. The historic boundaries were then digitized off of the historic map, producing a historically accurate representation of the town boundaries from the 1830’s place in a current geographical context. Historical election data was then joined to the historic boundaries using the town name field. Chloropleth maps representing this data set were created for the key years in question, utilizing a consistent data range. Finally, the maps were exported as images, and brought into a .gif animation program to make the final temporal representation.

Cheshire County was the pilot for this technique, and the goal is to map the entire state of New Hampshire with this election data.

Google Glass – Mapping and Educational Technology Applications

Alex Chaucer testing Google Glass at Google
Alex Chaucer testing Google Glass at Google

Google Glass came into existence in early 2012 and since it’s release to the public in 2014, a number of apps have been made specifically for Glass. In particular, there are several applications available for mapping and educational technology.

For mapping technology, there are a number of options that can be overlaid onto the Google Glass screen. There’s Google’s built in maps functionality which allows the wearer to ask for the directions. Glass will then use the built in compass and GPS to provide on screen directions to the wearer. Additionally, there is AR Glass for Wikipedia. AR Glass uses GPS to determine your location and then retrieves online data about your surroundings from Wikipedia, and overlays them on the screen. Another app available is Glasquare, an unofficial Foursquare-like app that allows the wearer to check in and search for nearby locations. Additionally, there is the mapping technology app is Fieldtrip. Fieldtrip uses data from over 100 local publisher partners to display information and tips on history, architecture, and hidden gems. Visual data is captured and then searched for, with information about the area or structure displayed on screen. The last location based app available is PosterBoy. PosterBoy allows the wearer to share pictures anonymously with their location. When other users come into the area where the original wearer took the photo, the photo will be displayed on the other user’s timeline.

These mapping technology applications have the potential to deliver location-based information in completely new ways. Not allow can these applications provide on-screen directions so the wearer can avoid staring at their smartphone, GPS unit, or paper map; but these applications can augment reality and turn a simple walk into an informative adventure.

In addition to the numerous apps for mapping technology, there are also several for educational technology. Homework for Glass allows students to keep track of their assignments by using course syllabi to check for what’s due. The wearer can then simply ask Glass, “What’s due?” to find out what they need to work on. UniSpeech for Google Glass is a real-time universal speech translation app for Google Glass, with the translated text appearing on screen. GlassCompute is an app that utilizes Wolfram Alpha technology, allowing the wearer to do basic math and computations through voice-guided requests. Another available app is Glassentation. Glassentation allows the wearer to create virtual index cards with slide notes, titles, and slide numbers for PowerPoint presentations.

The aforementioned educational applications have the ability to simplify both student’s and teacher’s hectic lives. Apps like UniSpeech and GlassCompute also have the potential to augment in-class learning. For instance, if a student doesn’t understand something they can simply use glass to find the answer. As Google Glass becomes more common, the number of available apps is sure to increase, and with it, the potential benefits for mapping and educational technology.

For other available Glass Apps, check out: http://glass-apps.org/google-glass-application-list

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