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.

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