The year 2019 is one that will go down in the history books for those of us on Esri’s StoryMaps team.
On the one hand, we’ll remember it as the year we launched the next generation of our storytelling tools: ArcGIS StoryMaps. While we’d been working on research, designs, and concepts for it for quite a while, this was the year that the new builder went from merely an idea to an actual app that folks could use to create narratives of their own. It started with a small round of alpha testing in January, before moving to a beta phase in early April. Then, just a few months later, the new StoryMaps was officially released to the public at this year’s Esri User Conference.
Of course, this past year wasn’t special simply because of the work my colleagues and I did. Much of the thinking that has gone into the evolution of ArcGIS StoryMaps has been driven by your feedback and insights, whether that came via a phone call, email, GeoNet discussion, or through our in-app feedback form.
Even more so, 2019’s significance for us has been grounded in all the incredible things you, our storytelling community, have created.
2019 by the numbers
In the past year alone, you made more than 400,000 new story maps, sometimes turning out 3,000+ in a single day. Of all these, roughly a quarter were made using the new builder, which we’re delighted to see given its relatively short time out in the world. Even more encouraging is that, on a daily average, you’re creating more stories with the new StoryMaps than with all of the classic templates combined.
Your 2019 stories brought our grand total of story maps hosted in ArcGIS Online to an astonishing 1.1 million. When the StoryMaps team was founded seven years ago, the idea of more than a million stories being created by a thriving, talented community was just a distant dream—now, you all have made it a reality.
The stories that stuck with us
The numbers alone are enough to amaze us, but what really motivates us is seeing the caliber of your stories grow by leaps and bounds year after year. If you raised the bar in 2018, in 2019 you catapulted it to an entirely new level. So, in what has now become an annual tradition, my teammates and I spent a little time pulling together a few of our favorite stories we saw come to life in 2019.
We’ve assembled two collections for your perusal. The first is a roundup of some of the most memorable stories created by community members like you; trust me when I say whittling this list down to just 10 was a week-long challenge. The second is a selection of stories created by members of the StoryMaps team and our Esri colleagues. We learned a lot while creating these—about cartography, storytelling, and some interesting subject matter, too—and think they make for both entertaining and educational reading if you haven’t seen them already.
As we compiled these collections, a few trends emerged around the types of stories that caught our eye this year, both in terms of topic and technique. It seems we have an affinity for stories about summiting great peaks, whether that’s a historical recounting of the race to climb Mount Everest, a modern-day expedition to create high-resolution models of the world’s tallest peak, a just-for-fun trek through the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, or a scientific mission to study volcanic activity.
Conservation has also proven to be a topic close to our hearts, and several stories about conservation efforts on the African continent made lasting impressions. We grew fascinated by the genetic variety of giraffes, were inspired by efforts to improve the economic opportunities of communities in wildlife-rich areas, and were delighted to see what’s possible when groups from across the continent come together for the sake of collaboration and knowledge sharing.
And then there were the personal stories that we found as fun to read as they were to make, whether the subject was how a hometown had changed over time, unexpectedly becoming a dog owner, or from where, exactly, the ingredients for a go-to salad are sourced.
When it comes to storytelling technique, it’s not surprising that these 2019 favorites demonstrate best practices we preach as often as we can. Many stories centered around a specific character or set of characters, making it easy for a reader to connect with the content.
Visually, all of our favorites established a cohesive design language that the author carried throughout the entire story, doing so in a way that matched the tone of the topic being discussed. Whether it was committing to a color scheme that underscores life in Greece, or skillfully weaving together historical depictions of the moon’s surface, this unified visual language elevated these narratives to the level of professional polish.
Finally, a good portion of these stories took advantage of a technique that makes StoryMaps especially powerful: map choreography. Whether that was simply toggling layers on and off to compare livestock density patterns around the world, or guiding a reader through specific areas in Idaho to better explain the importance of local river systems, this technique helps break down complicated ideas in ways that make them more manageable and memorable for readers. Seeing so many of you leverage it effectively in your stories this year is perhaps one of the high points of 2019.
I could go on and on about what makes each of these 20 stories worth reading more than once (at least in our opinion), but perhaps it’s better to just let you dive in and see for yourself.
On behalf of all of us on the StoryMaps team, thank you for making the past 12 months some of the most fulfilling ones we’ve had yet—though I’m sure you’ll somehow manage to top that in 2020. Onward, and Happy New Year!