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GovLoop & Esri Meet Up In Review: Story Maps

Last week, GovLoop and Esri hosted a GIS meet up, GovLoop & Esri MeetUp: Story Maps, the presentations featured Chris Liedel, President of Smithsonian Ventures and Lee Bock and Stephen Sylvia, who provided insights on how to leverage Story Maps templates.

Post Highlights

The Story Maps website (http://storymaps.esri.com/home/) states “[Story Maps] combine intelligent web maps with web applications and templates that incorporate text, multimedia, and interactive functions. Story maps inform, educate, entertain, and inspire people about a wide variety of topics.” With Story Maps, anyone can build, create, or modify a map to tell a compelling story. Maps have been used to create stories around visiting the National Mall, the sinking of the Titanic, and dozens of other important events. The image to the right is a great example of how Story Maps can be leveraged, the map shows the Twenty Best Small Towns in America.

Allen Carroll, who has been leading the Story Maps initiative states, “What’s exciting to see is how Story Maps has taken off in the last few months. Every day we see new uses and applications from our stories that we could never have imagined never telling.”

Lee Bock and Stephen Sylvia continued to provide an overview of how to leverage Story Map templates. Story Maps rely on application programming to present maps and data in an engaging and logical way. Bock and Sylvia provided an under the hood look at some of Story Maps and discussed the tools used to power Story Maps, such as the ArcGIS API for Javascript, as well as some 3rd party libraries (JQuery and plug-ins).Bock and Sylvia noted that templates are a great way to jump-start your experience with Story Maps. Bock helped to define what actually constitutes a story map, and the answer is simple, “if it has a map, and tells a story, it’s a story map.” Bock mentions there is no strict criteria for defining a Story Map, “for us it is more of an approach than a specific technology.”

The use of Story Maps is changing the way people view and thinks about GIS, providing applications that extend well beyond the traditional GIS user. Bock states, “Traditionally when people do GIS on the web they put a table of contents, and the approach has been ‘here is our data, explore it and good luck’.” This works well for an advanced audience – but Story Maps tries to take an approach for a simple user experience, sometimes removing complicated features and functionality to keep an easy user experience.

Sylvia’s presentation focused on the tools available for developers, and how they can leverage the GIS coding community to collaborate on projects. Sylvia states, “ArcGIS.com for developers – great tools if you want to build applications.”

He also mentions that since these stories are published on the web, they are easier and quicker to access, as opposed to having to use an app store. “We’re telling our stories on the web, so you do not have to wait for marketplaces or approval.” With Story Maps, and the tools that Sylvia describes, developers can instantly access code, update code, and share the new changes with the Esri GIS community. “All these great resources are in there, can sample code online,” states Sylvia.

What I found interesting about Story Maps was the ability to leverage many different kinds of technology, and the developer community to create simple and informative maps. Bock stated, “There is no one true story map technology – you can program in java, or with crayons and paper.” Esri also uses the developer community GitHub to store and host code. Sylvia shared some of the applications of leveraging GitHub; “You can search and find all story maps by searching on GitHub. It lets you see the full code resources and see what changes have been made in the past, you can request to see latest changes to receive updates.”

Bock also provided an overview of some of the templates available for users, he states, “These templates are for people who want to publish a story but do not have the time to write their own application.” Currently, Esri has 9 templates they offer through storymaps.esri.com. Bock highlighted a few of the templates available:

1) Text and Legend

  • This is for publishing a web map to a general audience and supports time enabled maps and multiple web maps.

2) Swipe

  • This template allows you to compare two layers of a web map, leverage a drop-down legend. Bock stated, this map allows you to “Uncover and retract and view two data sets at once.

3) Side accordion

  • The side accordion template provides the ability to publish a web map to a general audience, has a drop down menu and an accordion side panel.

4) Map Tour

  • Map tour was one of the more fascinating templates presented, but is currently only available to organizations. Map Tour combines an interactive map, text, and a photo panel and has a builder app component. Bock states, “Map Tour has a real advantage that it is super interactive and very focused, the challenge is you have to author your web map in a certain way.”

5) Shortlist

  • The final template presented was Shortlist, which enables users to discover and browse points of interest and has tabs with separate points by theme.

Lee and Stephen then moved into a demonstration showing the power of STEM education and Smithsonian, using the Accordion Map, with a description and side-by-side display. The presentation was interesting to watch, and especially the ease of use and functionality to build compelling web based maps.

With Story Maps, there are many different options to leverage. Bock states, “If you want a way to publish this to the world – there are a lot of different options.” Generally speaking, we are working to move our templates into a hosted environment with arcgis.com, for the time being you would download and host them yourself.”

The second speaker was Chris Liedel, President of Smithsonian Ventures. Liedel talked about the activities of his group, which includes Smithsonian's television, magazine, Internet, and travel businesses. Mr. Liedel was formerly the Chief Financial Officer of National Geographic, where he worked with Allen Carroll, now a Program Manager at Esri. Chris and Allen will discussed the ongoing collaboration between Esri and Smithsonian.

Interestingly, Liedel provided some insights on the mission of the Smithsonian Enterprises, he states, “When you look at Smithsonian Enterprises it has a mission to increase and diffuse knowledge, and when you look at the institution you can get a good grip at what that means.” He continues to describe the variety of avenues the Smithsonian Enterprises uses to forward their mission, build sustainability and generate revenue. The hope is through new initiatives; Smithsonian Enterprises can increase the reach, relevance and revenue of the organization.

Liedel shared some interesting statistics on Smithsonian:

  • About 30 million visitors to the National Mall every year
  • 7 million magazine readers
  • 22 million households
  • 23 million unique visitors
  • 13 million direct to consumer (travel magazines)
  • 6 million retail patrons
  • Most people only visit the mall 3 times in their lives (child, parent, grandparent)
  • Won a Peabody for the show on the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

What was also fascinating is that Liedel highlighted the the Smithsonian audience is not just a large audience, but an influential one, as Smithsonian Ranks #1 for C-Suite executives among their competitors.

Under Liedel’s leadership the hope is to have the Smithsonian provide the ability to explore content through a variety of channels, this will increase reach and awareness of all the great collections at the Smithsonian. The Smithsonian is increasingly looking to provide a user driven experience. “Facing a challenge from a physical engagement to a virtual desire to be out there, so we are really embracing how we can bring a digital to our audience,” stated Liedel.

Esri and Smithsonian have started to collaborate to help forward the mission of the agency. “We are starting with some baby steps, but have some exciting initiatives,” states Allen Carroll. One example was the goal of geo referencing Smithsonian collections, to show where collection items came from and which museum they are currently in.

GIS has many applications for the public sector, and is redefining the way organizations engage with clients, internal business functions, and the way in which services are delivered. If you are looking for more resources on GIS, be sure to check out some of GovLoop’s resources below.


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When 
Esri was founded in 1969, it realized even then that geographic information system (GIS) technology could make a difference in society. GIS helps people to solve problems at local, regional, national, and global scales. Access maps and apps at ArcGIS.com. Be sure to check out all the
 GIS resources produced by Esri and GovLoop.

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