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  • Mark Gallant

Three of a kind: How topics involving three places or categories work well in story maps

Updated: Jul 31


Three playing cards showing Aces
Original photo by article author

A well-written story map should have enough worthwhile content so that its reader is rewarded for investing the time and focus required to properly absorb the story. However, a story map should also be succinct; a reader cannot be expected to devote more than a few minutes of their time and in many instances, readers will decide to stay or move on to something else within seconds.


Over the years, something that I have found to help me strike this balance between short and long is when a story map’s topic has content that is easily divided into three categories or series. This could be something occurring in three different places, like the film settings of your favourite movie trilogy, or it could be three different thematic elements occurring in the same place, like scenes from your three favourite movies filmed in New York City.


But keep in mind that dividing your content into three categories is not a hard rule and great story maps can have only two or as many as five categories or series. It’s about what’s most effective in telling the story but, at the same time, you shouldn’t be overwhelming your readers with so many categories and sub-sections that they immediately skip over some, or worse, just close the story map altogether.


The following examples use a division of three categories or series to demonstrate this principle in action.

The Travels of Indiana Jones


The 1980’s film franchise, Indiana Jones, featured three films, each with distinct settings, that saw the title character on a wild ride to recover prized artifacts. In the past, I found using a Map Tour app in Classic Story Maps as the easiest way to document locations used in a single film, however, in this case I wanted to capture the full trilogy. So, I had to combine the trilogy of films into three sidecar elements within one story map using the new ArcGIS StoryMaps builder. I also realized that this format would give me more space to introduce each film and the context of how they were released to fans and received by critics. The navigational elements of the new builder also helped in presenting the trilogy: users can jump to a film using the navigation header section and the sidecar map elements can be expanded into full-screen views.


Making Waves: The Evolution of Ska!


Ska music evolved dramatically from its beginnings in 1950s Jamaica as the precursor to rocksteady and reggae. It was exported to the urban centres of England in the late 1970s and underwent a sonic rebirth in the United States during the 1990s. Each distinct wave of ska is tied to the location of where that wave took place, so I decided to present the three waves as three tabs on a Story Map Series app in Classic Story Maps. Each tab presents the hometown locations of artists who made contributions to the genre along with a description and video located within each map pop-up. Users are not forced to click through every artist if they don’t feel the need to; they have the freedom of spending as much or as little time as they want to on a given wave.


Win, Place or Show


In the United States, the Triple Crown is a title awarded to a three-year-old Thoroughbred horse who wins the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes within one racing season. I wanted to show an overview of where each race is located and some of its logistics, plus an aerial view of each racing track. I was able to create three short sections, one for each race, that share a uniform look and feel within a Story Map Cascade app in Classic Story Maps. However, I made sure that each section could stand alone if a reader simply wanted to focus on one race.


Divide and conquer with collections


You may run into instances were more than three categories is needed in order to best present your story. But again, you should try to avoid cramming too much content into one app, especially if your audience is a public one. One technique that may help would be to create multiple, shorter story maps and then group them together using a collection. You could apply the same principles discussed in this article but instead assign an entire story map to a topic or category, then have the story maps appear together as a collection and use this collection as the main starting point.