ArcGIS StoryMaps

Supercharge your stories with map actions (beta)

Like many forms of storytelling, story maps are, in most cases, linear reading experiences. They have a clear narrative structure, rather than an open-ended, choose your own adventure-style selection of paths. But just because story maps are linear doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t include short detours—especially if those detours add value to interested readers.

The January release to ArcGIS StoryMaps introduced a powerful new feature, map actions, which allow you to enrich your stories with optional map interactions. Map actions, currently in beta, are configurable toggle buttons that you can add to any sidecar slide that contains a web map or web scene. When readers select a map action, the appearance of the map changes.

In the example above, map actions are used to simultaneously change the map’s extent and toggle the visibility of different layers. The final action is a reset action (described below). 

Map actions are treated as secondary content within a story—readers aren’t required to interact with them in order to advance the story. Because of this, map actions are best suited for map views that aren’t essential to the story, but that still add context or value to the narrative. With map actions, you can change the extent of the map and/or the visibility of different layers. Here are just a few of the many ways you can use map actions to enhance your sidecar slides:


Highlight an area of interest

If your slide contains a thematic map, you can include map actions to pan and zoom the map to key locations, such as study areas, or exemplars or outliers in your datasets. These kinds of actions are useful for highlighting specific examples of broader geographic trends and relationships. 

Filter map data

Because map actions can be used to toggle the visibility of different map layers, they are great for providing filtered views of large datasets. These filters can be geographic, thematic, or temporal in nature: For example, you might include actions that only show layers with data in a couple key states, or some other criteria (e.g., an attribute exceeds a certain threshold). 

Show change over time

If you have several years of data to display, you can use map actions to isolate different time periods on the map. For example, if the initial view of your map shows car crashes between 2016 and 2019, you could include four actions—one for each year of the data. This approach can be far more economical than including a separate slide for each time period shown on the map. 

Provide a fresh perspective

If your map concerns both the built environment and the natural world, you might include an action to toggle between a human geography-focused vector basemap and a world imagery basemap. Just add both basemap layers to your web map or web scene using the map viewer or scene viewer—or move any existing basemap layers out of the basemap group, so that they can be switched on and off—and then use the map action layer visibility controlto show one and hide the otherProviding two complementary views of the same geographic area can reveal interesting, and sometimes surprising, patterns. 

In this example, map actions are used to zoom to geographic regions relevant to the map. The arrow just outside the action resets the map to its original view. Read the full story here.

Map actions open new doors for creative and effective storytelling, and we’re excited to see how you put them to use. To see some map actions in, well, action, take a look at our Wuhan coronavirus, World Heritage in Danger, or Urban Africa stories. 


Configuring map actions

Map actions come in two flavors: configured actions—discussed above—and reset actions, which simply restore the map to its initial state in that slide. (You can think of reset actions as “back” or “undo” buttons whenever a different, configured action is active.) Reset actions should only be included alongside other actions; otherwise, they are extraneous, as the map will always be displayed in a single state in that slide. 

Above: Configuring a map action in 30 seconds.

Both kinds of map actions are quick to create and configure. After adding a web map to the media panel of a sidecar slide, a new Map action option in the block palette becomes available. Selecting this option inserts a new action into the story. 

When you add an action to your story, it first appears as a reset action. To configure the action to show something other than the map’s initial state, hover on the action and click Edit (the pencil) in the toolbar that appears above it. 

This will open the map designer. You can now adjust the appearance of the map for that action. Remember, your map will only be shown in this state when a reader activates the action; otherwise, it will be shown as it appeared when you originally configured it in the media panel. 

When you’re satisfied with the appearance of the map, click Save action. This will return to the inline builder, and your newly configured action will be active. To deactivate the action, click the arrow to its right. Or, if you’ve already inserted a reset action (denoted by the arrow within the action), you can select that to restore the map to its initial state. 


Making the most of map actions

Much like mayonnaise on a sandwich, map actions are most effective when used judiciously. There is no hard limit to the number of actions you can add to a story, but the more that you add to a single slide, the less likely readers are to interact with them. That said, map actions work well in groups, and you shouldn’t shy away from bundling several related actions together, as shown in the examples above. 

As a general rule of thumb, if you want to show information that’s crucial to your story, you shouldn’t hide it in a map action. But if you just want to enrich your narrative with supplemental map views, map actions are a great choice. Map actions are currently in beta, and as we continue to refine and expand the feature, we’d love to hear your suggestions for improvement. 

About the author

Cooper Thomas

Cooper is a cartographer and product engineer on the Story Maps team; a displaced Oregonian; a forager of cultural sustenance; a fair-weather motorcyclist; and a onetime expert on Kyrgyz supermarkets.


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