StoryMap JS


Name: StoryMap JS
$: Free
Example: Al-Raqqa Under Attack
Level: Beginners to Advanced depending on project complexity
Use For: Fast, rapid deployment; Visually representing research; Telling a story with a geographic component


StoryMap allows the user to design a map where the viewer is presented information about each location as they navigate through the map. The user can pick from a variety of basemaps, including OpenStreetMap, custom maps, and those designed by the user on Mapbox. The user then creates a title slide which shows the points from all the other slides. As the user creates slides they can choose the location the map zooms to and what kind of information they want attached to the slide. It is possible to add text, videos, including those from YouTube and Vine, photographs, including those from Flickr, tweets, excerpts from Wikipedia, and SoundCloud files.

When exploring the map the viewer can use the arrows on the side of the map to move from slide to slide in order or click on individual pins in the map to see the information associated with that location. The viewer can move around the map and can double click to zoom in on an area. It is not possible for the viewer to zoom out but they can move the map around.


Simple versions of StoryMap can be created by those without prior mapping experience. Basic story maps can be created through the StoryMap JS authoring tool, however certain features can only be achieved through coding. For example, to override the automatic zoom settings for each slide the user must have knowledge of JavaScript. StoryMap is free for anyone to use. The maps can be viewed on desktop computers as well as mobile devices. They can be shared through a link or embedded in a webpage. StoryMap saves maps to Google Drive.


Gigapixel is a part of StoryMap and allows the user to tell stories about large image files, such as photographs, artwork, or historical maps. To access Gigapixel the user creates a new StoryMap and chooses the Gigapixel option. The image that is exported and uploaded must be saved as tiles.




Name: MapStory
$: Free
Examples: LRA Killings, Village Destruction in the Darfur Region (featured image)
Level: Intermediate
Use For: Visually representing research; Telling a story with a geographic or time component


MapStory allows the user to join an online mapping community and create interactive online maps. Maps are comprised of StoryLayers which is what a set of data is called. All data that is uploaded can be used by others on MapStory. Maps are called MapStories. MapStories combine StoryLayers and annotations, which can include text, photos, and video.

StoryLayers can be uploaded as an ESRI Shapefile, CSV, Raster, or Zip. When creating a MapStory the user can use their own StoryLayers or the StoryLayers that others have uploaded. Other StoryLayers can be searched by keyword, map extent, or time range. The user can choose from a variety of basemaps, add annotations, and choose whether or not to display a timeline. Which annotations are shown can change as the map changes over time.


Maps are published to the MapStory website, can be shared through a link, or embedded. If the map includes a time component the viewer can control how quickly time progresses and the time range they want to see. MapStory is a great free way to create maps with a time component and to share geographic information.

Google Products Overview

Google Maps

Google Maps is free and allows the user to choose from a variety of basemaps, upload files, and draw features onto the map.

Google Maps Engine

Google Maps Engine is similar to Google Maps but it has more capabilities and is not free. Google Maps Engine can support a wider variety of file uploads, more complex maps and has more sharing options.

Google Earth Pro

Google Earth Pro is the paid version of Google Earth. Unlike Google Maps and Engine it uses high quality satellite imagery and 3D imagery. The user can create maps, model new buildings, and create a video of 3D imagery.

Google Earth Tourbuilder

Google Earth Tourbuilder is free and uses Google Earth imagery to allow the user to create a tour.

Google Crisis Response

Google Crisis Response responds mainly to natural disasters. Often Google Crisis Response will have a resource page and host a crisis map with information from authorities and the crowd. Google Crisis Response also has a variety of products for responders.

Google Earth Tourbuilder


Name: Google Earth Tourbuilder
$: Free
Examples: North Korean Prison Camps Exposed (featured image), The Syrian Refugee Crisis From Above
Level: Beginners
Use For: Telling a story with a geographic component


Google Earth Tourbuilder allows the user to tell a story by showing the viewer information associated with different locations and time periods on Google Earth. The user can control the style of the map by choosing whether to show borders and labels, roads, 3D buildings, and 3D trees. The user can also add a map that is in KML or GME format. The introduction slide summarizes the story and can outline the time frame if desired. The user can add locations to the map and rearrange them as desired. There are various options for connecting the points in the story on the map. For each location the user can choose the zoom and orientation of the map and what kind of icon is displayed. The user can also choose to display either a street view or historical imagery. The user can add a description of the location as well as dates and up to 25 photos and videos.


Google Earth Tourbuilder can be used by those without prior mapping experience and free for anyone to use. The tour can only be viewed on Windows and Mac OS X 10.6+. The viewer must install the Google Earth plugin before they can view the tour. The tour can be shared through a link. Google Earth Tourbuilder allows the viewer to zoom in and out exploring the area as they wish, this is not possible with StoryMap JS. However, it can be viewed on fewer devices and has high quality imagery which can be difficult to load without high speed internet.

ArcGIS Online


Name: ArcGIS Online
$: Varies
Examples: US Drone Strikes in Pakistan (featured image), Enforced Disappearances in Syria, Civilians Under Attack in South Sudan
Level: Beginners
Use For: Visually representing research; Telling a story with a geographic component


ArcGIS Online allows the user to create interactive online maps. It is free for individual users, though all content generated will be public and cannot be for commercial use. Online subscription plans start at $2,500 per year for 5 users. Maps can be viewed on desktops and mobile devices and can be shared through links or embedded in websites. If the user wants to have more interactive content or tell a story ArcGIS Online has many templates to choose from. Those with advanced knowledge can build custom web and mobile applications that include the user’s maps.


ArcGIS online allows the user to zoom into the area of interest and choose what kind of basemap they would like to use. Basemap options include:

  • Satellite Imagery with or without labels
  • OpenStreetMap
  • Terrain
  • Topographic Maps

The user can upload layers from their computer or add layers from the web. The user can also add map notes. Map notes allow the user to add features, such as points, text, lines, and areas. These features can have pop ups associated with them that display text, images and charts.


The interface is easy to use and does not require prior knowledge of mapping. Adding features is a simple matter of pointing and clicking. There is also a tool to measure distances and areas, as well as find the latitude and longitude of points.


ArcGIS Online has a variety of templates and each has its own unique settings. US Drone Strikes in Pakistan is an example of a Story Map Journal, while  Enforced Disappearances in Syria and Civilians Under Attack in South Sudan are examples of Story Map Tours. Story Map Tours only allows ArcGIS basemaps and the content associated with each location is designed to highlight photographs and videos. Story Map Journals allow the user to better present text associated with a location, while still including photographs and videos. Story Map Journals also allow the basemap to be set to a user created map, which means the user can create a map using ArcGIS Online that highlights certain features and set it as their basemap.

Other types of templates include:

  • Story Map Tabbed
  • Story Map Side Accordion
  • Story Map Bulleted
  • Story Map Swipe
  • Story Map Spyglass

The templates are easy to use and most walk the user through the steps to create a map using the template.