Digital Tool Evaluation: Esri Story Maps

Since I was here last year and already had to do a quick Digital Tool Evaluation, I decided to take a different approach this year. I will talk about a tool I have had to use a lot this past year- Esri Story Maps from ArcGIS.

ArcGIS  Esri Story Maps is a tool that requires payment. At Gettysburg College, we gain access through the school. It is one of the tools used frequently in classes and other projects.  The mapping system can be used to create maps, narratives, and engaging visuals. It is not limited to one style of map or navigational experience. This system can be used to make different styles of maps, from the narrative Cascade to the functional Tour. Cascade focuses on how information is presented and delivered to audiences rather than creating a map. In fact, it can be made without using a conventional map at all. Tour, meanwhile, is a more traditional map tour that provides coordinates, pictures, and some information. Its style is not suited for in depth analysis, however. It serves to function as a map above all.

These maps can be embedded into sites, but it can also function as a site itself. While other mapping systems we use during the fellowship can also be an independent site, Esri story maps look better standing on their own.

The system is fairly easy to use. The interface is navigable for new users and tutorials exist to help master the tool. It takes time to learn everything, but it is not so difficult that it requires outside expertise.The website includes a blog with information about how to make and use story maps in engaging ways.

This tool is used by the school for many projects. While I will not use it for my own work, it has been useful for many other projects, from Killed at Gettysburg to the eventual Named Spaces website. It requires users to supply data, like coordinates and images, but does not require users to build a map from the ground up. Coding knowledge is not needed to make a sleek map. The college does, however, use another facet of ArcGIS to create maps for use in projects, like the Jack Piers Projects trench maps. Maps are supplied for those who cannot or do not want to build their own.

Some features could be improved, however. Inputting coordinates is tricky. I have input coordinates that are used in other mapping systems fine only to be taken to Antarctica while in Esri. The solution, I learned through trial and error, is to put reverse the coordinates. I don’t know why this discrepancy exists, but it can be frustrating. There is another method for inputting coordinates, but it is only specific to three decimal places and is not as accurate as it could be. The markers can also be moved on accident very easily, requiring constant reentering of data or approximating location to set the map back to how it was supposed to look.  

There are some questions supplied by the Criteria for Digital Tool Evaluation that I never thought about beforehand. These questions look into the documentation and data of the tool. I had never critically considered these issues before, as the tool always seemed good and secure. In the past week, I was alerted that the site would transition from HTTP to  the more secure HTTPS in order to increase security of the data. Esri does collect user data, but vows in its privacy statement to “use your personal information only for the benefit of Esri and our affiliates.” The code, meanwhile, is open source and hosted on GitHub for others to see. Esri encourages developer modification and collaboration through its code. As stated before, it does require subscription to use. This paywall limits the amount of people who can use the tool.

All in all, this tool is versatile and effective at what it does. It can be used to create maps and engaging visuals. While there are some tricks to be learned when using it, it is not prohibitively difficult to use. I will continue to work with these story maps to create engaging visuals and narratives.

One Reply to “Digital Tool Evaluation: Esri Story Maps”

  1. Thanks for your hard work with Esri. I know it can be challenging sometimes! Great call on pointing out the HTTPS conversion. One of the interesting things I found out is that you can download the data from Story Map Tours and get the coordinates of points, so I can download your dataset of trees from your map and use it elsewhere!

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