ArcGIS StoryMaps

Let our 2023 favorites inspire your 2024 storytelling

2023 was a banner year for ArcGIS StoryMaps.

Early in the year we added collection and mobile story enhancements. We later wrapped up with new link and quote block options. In between we introduced you to a new way to use ArcGIS StoryMaps — briefings (beta). Plus we added table and code blocks, and set the stage for much-anticipated story templates. Meanwhile we launched StoryScape, a monthly magazine celebrating your place-based stories across a diverse global landscape.

As the StoryMaps team looks to the new year, we reflect upon and celebrate our inspiring storytelling community and creative uses of the product. Join the celebration by sharing our 2023 favorite stories and downloadable wallpapers!

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Ten favorite stories

How does one choose story favorites from the hundreds of thousands of ArcGIS StoryMaps stories created in 2023? For every story on our list of favorites, there are hundreds of other deserving narratives. We’ve selected ten team and community stories that leverage product features and exemplify storytelling best practices.

A collage of story images with "2023 Favorite Stories" written on top
Browse the 2023 Favorite Stories collection

Our list, presented in alphabetical order:

All of these stories have multiple virtues, perhaps chief among them beautifully crafted narratives that deftly combine text with maps, images, and other rich multimedia content. The stories employ specific editorial and design techniques that are worth spotlighting — and emulating. Here are some of the special qualities that make these stories stand out.

Create a little world

It’s item number four in our Nine steps to great storytelling story. By “little world” we mean that all the visual elements of the story are seamlessly integrated into an elegant and immersive whole. Note how the custom theme of Green oranges & land ties the narrative together, and how all the maps and graphics riff on the orange-and-green color palette. See how the limited and understated color scheme of Breaking point creates a mood and unifies the narrative. The brown palette and offbeat typography of Digging up dinosaurs were risky choices, but help create a seamless experience and a distinctive look and feel.

Three images from featured stories displayed together
Images from Green oranges & land, Breaking point, and Digging up dinosaurs

Add a hero

Item two in the “Nine steps” story is a sure-fire way to engage readers, most of whom are more likely to relate to people than to abstract concepts. The Amazon Conservation Team wove images and quotations of Indigenous people into their Living territories narrative.

Answering the call profiles and shares the experiences of first responders in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.

A 3D visualization of a first responders site calls in Answering the call
A 3D visualization of a first responders site calls in Answering the call

Thanks to the Minneapolis Parks Foundation, we get a sampling, in text and audio, of the Dakota tribe’s language and culture.

Communicate through maps

Screen shot of a Living Territories story immersive section with text on the left and graphics and a map on the right
In Living territories, authors bring text, custom graphics, and maps together in scrolling sidecars

Several of our favorite stories included distinctive cartography.

The Amazon Conservation Team enriched their gorgeous maps with photographs added as media layers, taking advantage of a new ArcGIS Online capability.

What’s that bug? mapped the spread of the invasive spotted lanternfly via elegant interactive and animated maps.

Both stories used map choreography to make maps dance in tune to their stories’ cadences.

Consider images, and a good theme, to increase reader engagement

Although not all of our users have the luxury of working with illustrators, a few of our favorites made clever use of drawings and infographics to enhance their stories. Digging up dinosaurs’ child-friendly art makes the processes of fossilization and continental drift fun and accessible. And in What’s that bug?, it’s hard to beat an illustration that actually crawls across the page!

Animated lantern flies crawl across a U.S. map that displays the spread of lantern flies across the country
Animated lantern fly graphics crawl across the US map in What's that bug?

Compelling images can grab readers’ attention and thrust them into a story. Caught in the middle transports us into the Grand Canyon with a multimedia extravaganza. The story includes an innovative touch, marrying cartography and photography with maps that hover above photographic backgrounds.

A collage of four photos from the When Rains Fells in Winter story
Images and image galleries bring people and place to life in When rains fell in winter

The photos in When rains fell in winter grab our attention and transport us to a remote locale, making us empathize with Indigenous reindeer herders. The authors make clever use of express maps to interpret and contextualize the tale.

Finally, Growing green cities takes us to four dramatically different cities around the world, unifying them in a collection page and applying consistent stylistic treatments, including use of a single custom theme throughout and incorporating montage-style cover images.

Read the stories in our 2023 End of Year Favorites collection.

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A few mappy takeaways

Ring in the new year with a striking new background for your computer or phone! To spread the holiday cheer, we’ve turned some of our favorite 2023 maps and graphics into downloadable wallpapers. And don’t forget to share these freebies with friends and family.

Answering the call

Relive a harrowing search and rescue operation through dynamic maps and graphics.

Read the original story.

A collage of downloadable wallpaper from the Answering the Call story
Download the wallpaper

Breaking point

Discover the gritty reality of the shipbreaking industry, where end-of-life ships are dismantled under dangerous conditions.

Read the original story.

A collage of downloadable wallpaper from the Breaking Point story
Download the wallpaper

Digging up dinosaurs

Embark on a paleontological adventure with this vividly illustrated story of an ancient world concealed beneath layers of sediment.

Read the original story.

A collage of downloadable wallpaper from the Digging up Dinos story
Download the wallpaper

Doing conservation on the ground

Learn about the conservation efforts of Maine Coast Heritage Trust and the role of geospatial technology in protecting and restoring critical marine habitat.

Read the original story.

A collage of a wetland area from the Doing conservation on the ground story
Download the wallpaper

Examining galaxies far, far away

Feast your eyes on the cosmos with these striking images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Read the original story.

A downloadable wallpaper of blue skies, brilliant white stars, and clouds from the Examining galaxies far, far away story
Download the wallpaper

Spike mapping

Visualize commute patterns in the U.S. — and create your own thematic maps — using an innovative spike mapping technique.

Read the original story.

A downloadable map of commute patterns in the U.S. from the Spike maps story
Download the wallpaper

What’s that bug?

Witness the relentless spread of the spotted lanternfly, as these invasive insects threaten ecosystems and agriculture across the country.

Read the original story.

A downloadable map of lantern flies crawling across a U.S. map from the What that bug? story
Download the wallpaper
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We’d like to thank you, the global community of storytellers, for a great year. You moved ArcGIS StoryMaps forward with your product feedback and by showing us the art of the possible with your innovative work. Your stories are inspiring countless people to better understand our world and work to make a brighter future.

We’re looking forward to a deeper dive into storytelling techniques and approaches in 2024. Happy New Year from the StoryMaps team.

About the authors

Michelle Thomas is a communications lead and content strategist on Esri's StoryMaps team. She manages the annual ArcGIS StoryMaps competition, digital platforms, and storytelling campaigns that feature storytellers globally. Prior to joining Esri, Michelle created digital campaigns at the U.S. Interior Department and U.S. Department of Agriculture. She leveraged Esri's storytelling tools at both agencies, tying people, resources, and places together through stories. She joined Esri's StoryMaps team to share those experiences widely and empower storytellers to tell stories that matter.


Allen founded the story maps team at Esri. Prior to joining Esri in 2010, he worked at National Geographic for 27 years in a variety of positions, including art director of National Geographic Magazine and chief cartographer at National Geographic Maps.

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