The Gaza Platform

Amnesty International created a new digital tool to help expose patterns of Israeli human rights violations in Gaza. To learn more about the tool click here.


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.

ArcGIS for Desktop


Name: ArcGIS
$: Varies
Example: Roma, Forced Evictions and Segregation in Italy (featured map by Angela Chang)
Level: Intermediate to Advanced depending on project complexity
Use For: Visually representing research; Conducting geographic analysis


ArcGIS can be used to edit and analyze geographic information as well as generate a wide variety of static maps. Lincenses for ArcGIS start at $1,500. ArcGIS contains multiple applications. The main application is ArcMap which is used for mapping, editing, and analyzing 2D data. ArcGlobe and ArcScene are both part of the ArcGIS 3D Analyst extension and are used with 3D data. ArcCatalog is used primarily for data management. Using ArcGIS requires an advanced level of understanding, however there is a very comprehensive help library. The software is compatible with a variety of geographic information files.


At its most basic level geographic files can be layered on each other to produce a map. The user can choose the symbology that is used, what aspect of the feature is visualized, and whether features are labelled. The user can choose the zoom level of the map. There are various items that can be added to the map, including a scale, title, and legend. The map can be exported as a PDF, JPEG, TIFF, and more.



The user can add new features to shapefiles and geodatabases or add information to the attribute table which describes features in a file. The user can also create new files and add geographic information to them by drawing features or importing data from a GPS device. There are many ways files can be edited, including converting files to different projections and creating new files from selected information in a different file. Files that have been edited can be used to create maps using ArcGIS for Desktop or uploaded to ArcGIS Online.


ArcGIS also has a wide variety of tools that allow the user to manipulate and analyze the geographic information. Some of the tools include:

If a large amount of tools need to be used or an operation needs to be performed on a large number of files ModelBuilder or Python can be used to create a tool that will perform the necessary steps.



Name: Ushahidi
$: Free
Examples: Documenting Sexualized Violence in Syria (featured image), Report on Human Rights Violations in Saudi Arabia
Level: Advanced
Use For: Gathering information


Ushahidi is a free online platform that can be used for crowdsourced mapping. To download Ushahidi a server and programming knowledge are needed. Crowdmap Classic is the hosted version of the Ushahidi platform and is much easier to use for those without programming knowledge.


For those who choose to download Ushahidi, there are a variety of plugins and themes that can be integrated with the platform. Reports can be submitted through SMS, email, or a form. SMS reporting relies on FrontlineSMS or Clickatell. The administrator can also select to turn tweets with specific hashtags into reports. Reports can be uploaded and downloaded by the administrator in CSV or XML format. Ushahidi uses Open Layers, however KML and WMS layers can also be added to the map if desired.

Google Maps Engine


Name: Google Maps Engine
$: Varies
Example: Healthcare Equality Index 2014 Rated Facilities (featured image), Krivenik Minefields
Level: Intermediate
Use For: Visualizing research


Google Maps Engine allows the user to create interactive online maps. The user has their choice of a variety of basemaps and can add vector, image, terrain, and KML files to the basemap. The types of files supported can be found here. Image data can be turned into a mosaic, which will join the files together for ease of viewing. Once uploaded the data can be filtered and the symbology can be changed. Info windows can be added so the viewer sees descriptive information when they click on a feature.The user can also set a default viewport for a map or a layer.

Google Maps2

Maps can be viewed on desktop or mobile devices. Maps are saved in Google Drive and the user has control over the map privacy settings. Other people can be invited to view or edit the map. There are two kinds of sharing, those who have access to the draft version of the map and those who have access to the published version of the map. Maps can be shared through a link, printed, turned into a KML file or embedded.

Google Maps Engine is the paid version of Google Maps. It has the ability to create more complex maps and supports a wider variety of geographic data files. For more information on its features and capabilities click here. Google allows nonprofits to apply for a grant if they need use of Google Maps Engine.

*On January 29, 2016, Google Maps Engine will no longer be available for use. Google Maps (My Maps) will remain available.