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Story maps, the art of story telling

Story Maps - Art of Story telling - Best Presentation

When we were kids, we enjoyed listening to stories from parents & grand parents. That is how we received their embedded ideas & messages. When we grew up, we found that we have new stories… We have our own ideas that we need to deliver to others. Regardless if we need to present our ideas for business or just for fun, and regardless the topic we are addressing … Science, technology, sports, arts, environment, handcrafts, or others… In all cases, using impressive techniques will help us deliver the message efficiently… Here comes the Story Maps.

The term Story Map, in general, refers to a way of presenting your ideas through a series of graphics so that they visually delivers a story.

On the same track, Esri Story Maps is an effective way to tell your story & present your ideas to the world.

Now, we have some questions:

  • Who is Esri?
  • What are these story maps?
  • How much does it cost?
  • And how can we use story maps?

Here, I am going to answer these questions and add some examples as well.

About Story Maps

Esri Story maps - Story telling

Story Maps are online configurable templates. Each one has its own look and capabilities. Therefore, you select the proper template. Then, you add your content, which can a combination of text, images, videos, interactive maps, and others. Story maps are saved online as web applications. Therefore, you can share the URL of your story with other, and they will be able to see it. the above image shows examples for several story maps. .

Does it need development skills? Definitely, NO. Actually, the purpose of story maps is to allow everyone to present his ideas online without the need to programming skills. On the other hand, you need to be creative and talented in story telling in order to impress the audience.

To imagine what a story map can look like, let me show you a sample story map that I built about Egyptian History. If you prefer, you may open it in a separate full tab here.

If you want to view more examples, you will find much more story maps here.


Esri is a famous company in the field of GIS technology (Geographic Information Systems). You can find more details about GIS here.

One of the Esri products is ArcGIS online (AGOL). It is a cloud based platform where users can use interactive maps and get access to multiple GIS cababilities on the cloud, without the need to have local servers on-premises.  All they need is to have an AGOL account.

You may refer to GIS, Cloud & Life for more details about cloud based GIS.

One of ArcGIS online features is the capability of building story maps. In other words, AGOL users are able to build story maps and share them with others.

How much does it cost?

Short answer: nothing… Story maps are available for Free.

Long answer:

ArcGIS online has two types of accounts:

  • Organizational account: Organizations pay annual subscription fees to get use of full ArcGIS online capabilities.
  • Public accounts: mainly for individuals. Public account is free for non-commercial use and it avails limited features for users. Good news is you need only a public account to create story maps (for non commercial use).

You can create your own public account at this URL:

Story maps - Story telling - ArcGIS Online - Public Account


When you create a story map, ArcGIS online hosts it for you on the cloud. Therefore, you needn’t to have your own web server.

Open Source:

Story maps are open source! This means if you have your own web server, you can download the template with its source code. Then, you edit it and publish it on your server.


Usually, story maps are accessed online using their URL as any website. Alternatively, you can embed the story map inside another website. You may noticed that the above story map about Egyptian history is embedded inside this web page. I also added the URL so that you can open it as any regular web site.

At the top right corner of my example, there is a share icon. If you click it, it will give you the URL of the story map, and few HTML lines so that you can simply copy and paste these lines into your website to embed the story map in a web page.

Story Maps - Story telling - Share

Creativity in Story Telling … More Examples

Almost everyone can use it, and for multiple purposes. Here I am listing some examples. However, sky is the limit. Just be creative!

Annual Reports

Usually organizations publish their annual reports as traditional static files that people can download from their website. This organization wanted to present the annual report in an attractive way. So, they presented it as a story map. See it here.

Story Maps - Story Telling - Annual Reports


Story maps can act as educational materials for delivering lessons. This is an example.

Story Maps - Story telling - Lesson


You may use story maps to document your own tours. Similarly, you can use them to promote & recommend tours for others. See this example.

Story Maps - Story Telling - Touristic Tour


Why not making your newsletters more attractive. Just like this one.

Story Maps - Story Telling - Newsletter


It is nice to be creative when giving Info & guidelines to people attending your event. This is an example.

Story Maps - Story telling- London Marathon


Guess What? you can use it for wedding planning. Just as this couple did using a simple story map for instructing their guests about the locations they need to know. See it here.

Story Maps -Story telling - Wedding Map

Building Story Maps

To start building a story map, just log in to your account and select: Content > Create > App from template. A list of the available templates will appear so that you select the template you like for your story map, and follow the instructions to add your content.

Story maps -Story Telling - Templates

There are many templates. However, my own favorite types are: Cascade, Map Journal , Map tour, and Short list. A little note is that the above example about Egyptian History is built using Cascade template.

For detailed instructions, you can access this URL Here for more details and the tutorials of each template.

I am adding below the URLs of the tutorials for the favorite four types:


Map Journal

Map Tour

Short List

Adding a Map

Interactive maps are not mandatory in all story maps. This means while some templates require interactive maps as a mandatory component, other templates allow you to build story maps without maps. Only text, images and/or videos.

Yes, story maps are built by a GIS company. But they want to help you present your idea with the best way possible. So, it depends on your idea and how you like to present it. if there is no need to include a map, then build your story map without any.

Assuming you need interactive maps. For example, you want to build an interactive map displaying the locations of cinemas in your city. One easy way is to sort your data into an Excel sheet as below. Point is to include two columns for coordinates (Latitude & Longitude if each cinema). Then, save the file as CSV format.

Story Maps - Story telling - CSV

In ArcGIS online, you can select: Content> Create> Map. A map viewer will open. you can add your cinema locations on map as follows:

Story maps - Open

The cinemas will be displayed on map. Then you can save the map. Now you have an interactive map to be used in your story map.

Story maps - Map viewer - Sample
Sample map

You can find detailed instructions here.

Also you can learn about using Map Viewer here.

You may also read Free educational resources to stay updated with GIS technology

Best Presentation … Some Tips

The main target is to deliver the best presentation to impress the audience. Here are some tips:

  • Your story is the super star. So, work on it. Define tour main idea & sub ideas. Decide how to make a good start & intro. Set your strategy to make the story well organized.
  • Use catchy visuals. Nice images … ensure that colors are comfortable for eyes.
  • If your story is relatively long, split it into sections. Then, try to use a template that allow users to jump to a specific section when needed.
  • Try to visit the tutorial of the selected template to get awareness about its features. That helps you utilize all the capabilities.
  • Get inspired. Have a look at other story maps and see how they present their ideas and tell their stories.
  • Last but not least, Be Creative.