Intelligent Web Maps Tell Stories

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Documentation and other resources for this ArcGIS capability can be accessed from, a new site focused on ArcGIS for Desktop users. In about three weeks we will begin redirecting to that page. Documentation for 10.2 and earlier releases will continue to be accessible.

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Intelligent Web Maps Tell Stories

The key to telling a story with a map is to know why you need to communicate your message to a specific person or set of people. It's your mission. Focus on conveying knowledge to your audience, rather than raw data, and sharpness and clarity of purpose will be achieved. Define your purpose to intrinsically address the people who need your map.

First impressions matter. With your purpose in mind, make sure the most visually obvious thing about your Web Map (i.e., what people will most likely see first) is the right first impression. Sometimes priorities can be tricky; perhaps the most important thing about a map is not the title or the first place shown but rather an instruction that ensures successful use. Write down the story of your map and how it works and verify that others see your map the way you intend. Most people seeing your map for the first time will start at the upper left and track to the right and down, so make sure they start off with something useful.

Your data must support your purpose at every level. The data behind your Web Map must support the knowledge its users will believe it conveys. Not only must the data add up, such as the population of each country being equal to the population of the world, but the data must also be formatted and presented in a way that makes it easy to verify, understand, or analyze.

Visual distractions are the undoing of many Web Maps. Text that is not legible because it's covered up by something, is too small, or runs into other text is very distracting-people will see and focus on that first. Confusion creates distraction-if the symbols on your map are not self-evident and there is no legend to help users understand them, people will spend their remaining time with your map getting frustrated and likely not get the knowledge you intend to convey.

Last, stories are not about the storytellers. Just like a book, people want to read the story before they decide to find out what else the author or publisher has to offer. Text that appears on your map should explain the story. Somewhere down low on the list of visual priorities in your map, people should find information about the map, the data, and the author.

This map is interactive, you can pan or zoom by dragging a rectangle with your mouse while pressing the Shift-key or Shift- and Ctrl-keys.