This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Last Updated June 2018
Created by Paul Vieth
Updated by Sarah Clayton and Chelsea Smith-Antonides
This tutorial will include the basics of ArcGIS online but primarily focus on Story Maps. If you would like a more detailed look at ArcGIS online, please see our ArcGIS Online tutorial.
Table of Contents
- Getting Started – Creating your Basemap
- Story Maps Journal
- Story Maps Cascade
ArcGIS is a Geographic Information System.
It has high end professional applications and functionality but also provides a free and public online version through which geographic data can be mapped and augmented with a variety of supplementary applications.
Here are some examples of what you can do with ArcGIS
The supplementary application we’re interested in today is called Story Maps.
Story Maps is a powerful tool that allows you to integrate an audiovisual narrative with the relevant geographic relationships between the moments of the narrative and their spatial locations.
ArcGIS uses the “freemium” model, so though they provide a professional version of their platform with high functionality for a cost, they also provide free public accounts. Before we get started, go to the ArcGIS Online portal and click “Sign In” to create a free public account. Feel free to use a pre-existing google account to sign up.
When you’ve done that, click on the Map tab of the main menu. From the Arc GIS Online frontpage, you can also access the Gallery to see the potential of ArcGIS Online, or access the maps you’ve made under My Content, once you’ve created some.
In the Map section, you should be taken to this screen:
There are three things you can do from this screen:
- Adjust the zoom level and the framing of the map
- Choose a basemap
- Add layers
Basemap and Zoom
ArcGIS Online only allows preset quantum zooming, so you must use the “+/-“ zoom buttons and operate within the coarse adjustments they permit.
ArcGIS Online provides 12 preloaded basemap options. The default is called “Topographic”, but there are options for satellite imagery, monochromatic maps, streetmaps from OpenStreetMap, and others. Think tactically and tactfully about what you need the map to represent (and what you don’t) in light of your project goals and aesthetic grammar.
You can preview these options and select what you would like to use by clicking Basemap on the upper left side of the screen.
The layers are the most important component of this preparatory process. Layers in ArcGIS can either mean map tile sets, or smatterings of geographic data (what ArcGIS calls “features”): both the quantitative data of latitudes and longitudes and the qualitative descriptions of what those points represent.
(Refer to the supplement section to learn how to add new tile layers (in the form of a beautiful watercolor map, for example))
There are several ways to “lay” geographic data onto the map you’ve set up: click the “Add” tab from the top toolbar.
You can import layers from the web, search for publicly accessible layers on the ArcGIS Online server, or upload a file.
ArcGIS Online can work with KML, GeoRSS, or CSV files.
For this tutorial we’re going to be using a crime incident dataset provided by the City of Lynchburg, Virginia. The City of Lynchburg maintains an open data portal in the spirit of administrative transparency. Because of size limitations for individual file uploads into ArcGIS Online, we have reduced the dataset to only show the crime incident reports from January 2018. Please download the sample dataset here.
We originally download the dataset from the Crime Incident page of the Open Data Portal.Feel free to pursue the original dataset, but you will not be able to update the full set because of the size limits.
- Return to the ArcGIS Online Map Viewer. Click the Add dropdown menu and select add layer from file.
- Browse for the Lynchburg, VA crime incidents dataset you just downloaded.
- Click the blue Import layer button.
- Scroll down to Address under the Review location field and select Addresses or Place. By default, ArcGIS will have selected street for the location field.
- Click Add Layer to add your data to the map.
On the left side of your map, you should see some options about how to display the data you just uploaded.
- Change option 1 to Show location only.
- Then, select the blue Done button.
- Finally, you should see you data on the map.
[Quick note about this dataset: It comes with unique geographic identifiers for each crime incident. If you upload your own data, ArcGIS online will ask you to connect either latitude and longitude, or a set of postal address identifiers to the column headings in your data.]
ArcGIS will automatically adjust the position and zoom level of the map to neatly contain the data you “layed” on the map. You can also manually adjust the position and zoom of your map.
Remember: How you see the map on this interface is the default display of the map inside the ArcGIS Online web application (Story Maps)
This is the process for making any map in ArcGIS online. From here we will go on to create a Story Map using the map you’ve just created.
Initializing Story Maps
[Don’t worry about my funky-looking map below; it’s because I chose the Stamen Toner tileset for my basemap]
Notice the toolbar on the right at the top of the screen.
The measurement tool allows you to determine:
- The area of any polygon (created by successively clicking where you want the vertices, not clicking and dragging and being limited to quandrangles)
- The length of any line segment, or series of non-linear but conjoined line segments (again by clicking in succession)
- Or the latitude and longitude of a point.
You can also save your map from this toolbar. Make sure you do this now before we proceed by clicking Save.
Initializing your map in an ArcGIS web application is unintuitive from this view.
- Click Share in this top-right toolbar
- Check the box to share with Everyone (public)
- Click the bottom-right button Create a web app, despite the fact that it appears inactive in grey.
This will open a dialog box with access to the full suite of ArcGIS web applications, this isn’t the forum to discuss all of them, especially given their specialized functionalities, but we will explore the Story Map applications.
- Click the Build a Story Map tab.
- Crowdsource (beta)
- Shortlist (beta)
- Swipe and Spyglass
We’re going to be working with Story Map Journal during this first section, but I really encourage you to play around with all 8 versions.
They represent different graphical/stylistic variations on the same concept: a map (one that you’ve designed in the map builder as above) accompanied by multimodal content presented with a set of geographic relationships to the map you provide. For Story Map Basic, that content consists merely of a clean presentation window with a brief description of the map. Also, Story Map Crowdsource (beta) requires an ArcGIS subscription, but the National Parks Service has created a great example of the power and poignancy of this application.
Initializing Story Map Journal
- In the Build a Story Map tab
- Click Story Map Journal
- Click Create Web App (blue button)
- Name your Story Map and tag it with identifiable keywords (these can simply be the name and tags of the map you created above)
- and … Click Done
This will take you to an option between a floating panel and a side panel. You can see live examples for both of these through this dialog box. For simplicity, select Side Panel and Click Start
From here you can take a tour of the Story Map Journal web application, this will briefly detail the functionality of the Journal.
Now we’re ready to turn our map into a story.
Building Your Story Map Journal
The Story Map Journal interface is divided into a Main Stage and a Side Panel. First select what you want your audience to see on the Main Stage. This is most often (and probably the intention of ArcGIS) a map, but you are allowed to make it an image, video, or web page as well.
- In the Select or create a map dropdown menu, select the map of Lynchburg, VA crime incidents we created earlier, by the name you assigned your map.
- Keep all of the default options and click Next
- You’ll then be asked to populate your Side Panel (this is where the text and media of your narrative go). ArcGIS wants you to create a home section, with a project subtitle (the title you gave earlier will display automatically), and maybe an introductory image first.
[If you want to get creative and personalize your Side Panel content with precision, you can open the code editor (tool button second-from-the-right) and input html and inline css]
Now that we’ve placed the Main Stage content map and the Side Panel introduction, we’ve established the process we can repeat to create our entire journal. All that’s left is to go through the various functions of the side panel.
Side Panel Functionality
After you’ve created your starting view for your Main Stage (map) and your Side Panel introduction, there are only two actions you need to perform to enlarge and enhance your story.
- Add Section
- Click Add Section
Each new section involves not just creating Side Panel content for that section, but changing the display properties of the Main Stage. So when you add a section, you’ll see this dialog box:
For each section you can set the content of the Main Stage to a map, image, video, or webpage.
If you keep the Main Stage content as a map, you can:
- Change the location and zoom level of the map - (Click Custom configuration in Location section)
- Choose which layers you want displayed on the map. Our map only has two layers, a basemap and a layer of crime incident datapoints. Some maps have dozens of layers of information, and discarding irrelevant layers can help clarify the point you’re trying to make in a particular section - (Click Custom configuration in Content section)
- Display a pop-up containing supplementary information about a particular datapoint (feature) - (Click Custom configuration in Pop-up section)
- Since you might display only a particular detail of the map for a section, you can keep the larger map displayed in the bottom corner of the Main Stage- (Overview Map in Extras section)
- You can also allow your audience to see the map legend or search for addresses, places, or features (data points) on your map - (Extras section)
The Side Panel can contain
- text description
- block quotes
- or bulleted and numbered lists
Here’s an example of the combined functionality of a section in the side panel (with each design decision highlighted in red). I re-centered and zoomed the map (to a particular neighborhood); I had the map display a detail pop-up of a particular datapoint; I have the overview map displayed in the corner; the legend can drop-down from the top; I have contextualizing imagery, video, and description in the Side Panel.
Now all you have to do is string sections together to create a larger multimodal narrative – all rooted in the geographic relationships of the spatial data and the multimedia qualitative anecdotes that make that data meaningful…
When you’re all done, you can share a link to your story map or embed it into a website.
[the story map created for this tutorial is completely fabricated and unrelated to any legitimate scholarly research project (thank goodness)]
Story Maps Cascade
Another Story Map that is worth exploring is the Cascade option. The Cascade creator has slightly different functionality, so let’s dive right in and test it out. From the My Stories page, select Create Story, and select the Cascade option in the window.
Building Your Story Map
The menu on the left side contains six options at the top:
- You can preview your story by clicking the upper left button (“View Your Story”).
- The settings symbol lets you select the theme of your page under Appearance. You can have a light or dark theme and pick which fonts you want to use.
- The health report button (the heart) lets you know if something in your project is causing an error, and it will tell you exactly which part of the project needs to be fixed. Usually this is an image that was not uploaded properly.
- Next is a Save button, and then your privacy settings.
Side Panel Functionality
- You begin with a cover page where you can enter the name of your project, a subtitle, and a picture if you wish.
- Click Add your image or video to upload or link to an image from the web. This will place the image in the background.
- Be sure to select an image that is large enough to span the whole width and height of the page! If the image size is too small, the image will become pixelated and hard to view.
- At the bottom of the screen is a downward-facing arrow (V). Click that and then the plus sign to add a new section to your Cascade.
- Your options are Text, Media, Title, or Immersive.
- Text will open a text page where you can insert as much information as you wish, and you can then insert other images or video into that section. You can insert quotes and center your text, too!
- Media will open a window where you can upload an image, or insert the URL of an image. You can also upload ArcGIS data! The upper left of this window says ArcGIS, and below that, ArcGIS Online. Here you can find map data that other users have created, and you can apply it to any map that you create or upload to your project. Neat! This can give you ideas for your own maps.
- Title will insert a horizontal strip into your story where you can write a header title and insert an image in the background if you wish.
- Immersive is where you can insert a large-sized file, such as a map or image, and your text will float across the screen as you scroll. The floating section (“Continue your story here…”) has an edit option where you can change the size of the floating box, change the dark or light theme, and its position on the screen. Test the different options to see which looks best with your media!
- At the bottom of the left panel, there is a button that says organize. This lets you re-arrange your sections as you see fit and save them into new positions. This is really helpful when you add and delete things!
- Hover over your sections in the left panel: you can duplicate a section that you think is stylish, or delete a section entirely if you’re unhappy with it.
- Cascade is kind-hearted and will let you undo these actions if you make a mistake. Watch for the Undo box that appears on the upper right hand side of the screen!
Remove or Change Media
- Did you upload a picture and dislike how it looks? Don’t fret! The bottom left corner of the image will have a little edit button that looks like a pencil. Click that and then Manage. Next click Change Media. This is where you can replace your image with a better one. Click the check mark that appears in the botton left corner to save these changes.
- Cascade is a great option for creating a web page and it’s especially friendly to images. Play around with your options and create a beautiful project in no time.
- Don’t forget to add a credits section at the bottom! Put your sources there if you borrow images or quotes.
Adding a New Tile Set
You can refer to this ESRI blog post for adding new tile set layers to a basemap.
Maps in online mapping platforms, such as Google Maps, OpenStreetMap, ArcGIS Online, etc., display as successions of image tiles. Each map view is a matrix of tiles and as you zoom in on the map, the tiles are replaced with new tiles with more detail, thus maintaining the map’s resolution.
There are a few ways to get a basemap tile set that isn’t included as one of the default 12 maps in ArcGIS online.
- To manually add a tile layer from the web, refer to the above blogpost
- The easiest way is just to locate a basemap layer on the ArcGIS server and, while logged into your ArcGIS Online account, have that basemap “Open in Map Viewer”.