StoryMapJS: Cool Beans

The Knightlab program is cranking out digital tools that I find to be pretty user friendly and easily adaptable to different site templates like WordPress and Scalar (I’m sure you can probably put it in Omeka, but why don’t we cross that bridge later?), and honestly I’m here for it. I love free tools that are designed to be easy to use. StoryMapJS is no different here, and I’m excited to potentially use it for my project.

StoryMapJS is good for mapping out points on a world map to tell a story and document the path, but what sets it up for my own use is its ability to import images so they can be notated as well. This is perfect for my own uses, honestly (given how I’m using art…).

When you go to open up StoryMapJS to make one, the tool immediately asks for your Google account. People do take issue with this for privacy reasons- however, I really don’t and will be proceeding under the impression you don’t either.

The tool opens up with a straightforward, black and white world map. On the map feature, you can zoom in pretty close to get as accurate of a location as possible. However, this is a standard Mercator map, which could affect some more Eastern versions of maps if that’s your issue (maps really are biased, mainly because spheres don’t flatten very well. Different post.).

You can toggle a setting on the map that lets you connect each point on the map and slide, making a path. Turning this off might be easier for other images, but if you’re following someone’s journey across the world, that is a useful tool to have.

However, I take issue with the points themselves, mainly the aesthetic. They’re big, chunky, and put logos on your map that don’t really work depending on what media you use for your notations. The colors can’t change, and neither will the size. They may or may not match the aesthetic a user might be trying to work with, and looks weird on a piece of art.

Uploading images to notate can be a bit tricky too, mainly because you want a giant image that can take up space on your computer, and then you have to use another tool to break it into smaller pieces so the map will load faster and not get distorted. It takes time to do that, and you definitely need a high resolution image to upload to make it work. But this can

You can embed pretty much anything into the map point description, which is pretty nice. That description also probably has a pretty high word count tolerance, or that is also unlimited. I have also been told that there’s either a really high cap on the number of points you can put in, or that number is unlimited. Julia’s project, for example, is pretty wordy and has many points on a battle map (which is super impressive).

Overall, it’s a pretty good tool for beginners and people who are getting into DH with uses that need to be simple, pleasing, and accessible with more limited budgets. Nothing wrong with that, and honestly it’s my favorite tool we’ve used. I didn’t run into any technical problems while playing with it, and I call that a good sign.

Digital Tool Review: SoundciteJS

SoundciteJS is a tool used to embed audio clips into a text. Powered by Knightlab, it runs similarly to the other JS sites. It is free, relatively easy to use, and open source. I have talked about this tool a few times before, but it deserves to be talked about again.

SoundciteJS is not an audio editing tool. It simply makes a clip that can play over text. The end result looks like this:


The audio file can be played if the play button in the highlighted text is pressed. Files can be made out of any mp3 or ogg file, can be made to be whatever length is required, and can be made to repeat.

To create a file, users need only to find an audio URL, load it to the site, and set the time codes for the clip. Now, shorter clips are better for this tool. It can be used to augment a piece of text, to create environment, to give auditory examples. Using it for pages upon pages of text as an actual audio file goes against what the tool was created for. It is not meant to edit audio, that must be done before the file even reaches the SoundciteJS page. A usable mp3 or ogg file must be available with a URL in order for the tool to work. If the file cannot load, the tool won’t work. SoundciteJS, like other JS sites, works better on some browsers than others. Firefox is recommended over ones like Chrome, as the tool will operate more smoothly.

The tool itself is not that hard to use. Knowledge of HTML is handy, but the site does a good job of explaining how to embed the generated code. The link van be made without in depth technical knowledge. However, if a user ever wants to save a file, they must make a SoundCloud account and register with that, or they risk the chance of losing their links. As far as privacy goes, they certainly exist. While users don’t have to register with an account, the openness of this tool and the other JS sites do have their privacy issues. As far as uses go, SoundciteJS  can create atmosphere in a piece of writing by stimulating more of the reader’s senses. It is not necessarily useful in answering research questions, but it was not necessarily designed to. The page for making a clip is simple and serves only one purpose- generate an embedable code to make pieces of text more interesting. There’s not much to it, but that makes it more user friendly.

I myself probably won’t use this tool. I had considered it to help create atmosphere in my audio tour, but the need for readers to click on the text to prompt the audio would distract from the narrative interpretation. I would be better off using an audio editor and incorporating what I would put in Soundcite into my larger audio file. All in all, this is a useful tool that can bring interest and life to digital projects- provided users know what they are doing.

Queer OS?

Wow. Most of the content of this article went right over my head. I took a 300 level feminist theory course which had difficult readings, but this is especially tough. To truly understand this article I think it needs to be read very slowly, annotated, and read over again. I would really like to hear the authors speak about this. I would hope it would be easier to understand. I understand that Barnett, et al. want to break down different hierarchies, but they are writing in such a way that only certain people with great educations can understand. I think I would really benefit from the Cliff notes version of this. I want to be able to get on board with the idea, but I can’t if I don’t understand it.

StoryMapJS, a Review

What are the key features of this digital tool? How is this digital tool distinct from other ones similar to it?
As RC mentioned in our Mapping with Esri StoryMaps and StoryMapJS session, StorymapJS is PowerPoint like which helps to make the tool user friendly. A user does not need to know HTML or CMS to use the tool, but a basic coding understanding is required to embed other maps into it. Because maps can be embedded, the user can choose what type of map to annotate. For example one user may use a map from the 15th century while another may use a current map of the United States. Images and pictures can also be embedded into StoryMap making them very easy to annotate. On the down side, other aspects of StoryMap are not easily customizable and a Google log-in is required.
Other similar interactive mapping tools include: Esri StoryMaps, Fabula Maps, and Google Tour Builder. There are also some data visualization tools with maps which include Carto DB, ArcGIS and QGIS. In our session we worked with Esri StoryMaps as well. The tool has a default map that is not customizable and there is a 99 map point limit. Storymap JS on the other hand can have an unlimated number of points plotted on the map. Esri StoryMaps is a paid tool, making it more stable, but less accessible.

What kinds of research questions might this digital tool help you answer?
There are several different research questions that this digital tool can help to answer. By creating points on a map someone’s life, journey, trip, ect. can be shown. Paintings, photographs, lithographs, ect. can be annotated to help understand the imagery and symbols.

Is the digital tool free, or is there a cost to use it?
StoryMapJS is free but a Google log-in is required. There is no monetary cost, but because a Google log-in is required StoryMaps can collect the user’s data. I personally see issue with this, but some people do not have a problem with it.
What kinds of data/input does the tool require?
-Variety of images, audio, videos.
-TimelineJS and other similar tools can be emended.

Could you use this digital tool for your project? Why or why not?
Yes. I am planning on using this tool to annotate the lithograph on the cover of the sheet music I am analyzing. I believe StoryMapsJS is a great tool and I am really excited to start working with it more.

QueerOS: Another platform, for… what, exactly?

So, this reading about QueerOS by Fiona Barnett, Zach Blas, Micha Cardenas, Jacob Garboury, Jessica Johnson, and Margaret Rhee is dense, weird, and kind of unapproachable. The purpose of the article is lost on me, hidden beneath jargon that requires a WGS and a computer science degree to understand (neither of which I have). If I’m missing the point of the article entirely when writing about this, please do not hesitate to engage with me and explain it to me, because I would love love love to learn more.

I see many issues within the queer community (ahem, biphobia?), and I take issue with the radicalization of the queer community that slips through the cracks of the few parts I could truly understand, and those are things I immediately see as far more pressing concerns than making the QueerOS.  That’s an issue for a different blog post. However, in the meantime, we’ll go back to reacting to the article.

The joke may be lost on me if it is one, but I find it unusual for a scholarly article to crack something like this:

“By offering its flesh to the OS, the user becomes one/multiple/nothing and binds itself in a contract with the OS.The user’s offer of flesh is irrevocable, nonexclusive, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free, and sublicensable.”

For a group that advocates for consent and states that consent can be revoked, I find this flesh language to be borderline hypocritical. Perhaps this needs to be fleshed out.

The rest of it is pretty straightforward, mentioning more about trans inclusion and how important it is to include POC as well, which I’m 100% on board for. However, I still end the article thinking: Why? What issues do you take with the existing operating systems? I understand that it was likely designed by a cishet white male, but at this point I think there’s higher priorities that need to be discussed and fixed before you go digging more into radical operating systems that won’t necessarily fix anything and won’t necessarily get you taken seriously, especially if there’s no real benefit to be gained from it and he authors of the article know it:

“We acknowledge that some of these features do not exist as part of present-day operating systems or terms of service. Nonetheless these concepts are repurposed here with performative and disruptive intent.”

I’m always fond of a little chaos and disruption, but the message doesn’t get translated well when others are worried about the chaos. I get that “neoliberals are the devil” mindset is hard to shake, but chaos isn’t going to bring everyone over to your side, and instead will alienate the people you’re trying to translate the message to.

I’m fine with a QueerOS if someone wants to make it. I’m not uncomfortable, and I’ll embrace it if it’s understandable, usable, and not put up too high in the ivory tower for even me to approach. I’m glad that there’s more queer and POC representation in DH, but this didn’t help me understand DH better. It just confused me more, actually. If you want to be inclusive, don’t bury your inclusiveness under jargon and hypocrisy.

This rant turned out longer than 100 words. Oops.