MapStory Community Journal

Share your ideas, projects and questions with the rest of the MapStory community.

The Journal is the place where you can share with the rest of the global MapStory community. Ue the Journal to talk about projects you’re working on, events you’re holding, or ideas you have to make the MapStory platform and community stronger.

Adding a journal entry is easy! Just click the Journal link at the top of your screen, and then click the “write an entry”. You will be taken to a page where you
can author your post and publish when ready. To style your text (i.e. adding bold, italics, and hyperlinks ) you will use simple redcloth commands. Once your post is published, you will set it on the journal, as well as under the Journal Entries tab of your own personal profile. If you want to edit or unpublish your entry at any time, just click the edit button that appears next to any entry that you own.

In 2017 we plan to refactor the Journal to support simpler WYSIWYG features so you don’t have to go to redcloth.org to look up HTML rules. For now, you’ll have to do a bit of learning, but we think you’ll find its pretty straightforward even if you’ve never coded in HTML before.

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Feb. 23, 2017, 10:20 a.m.

The Anatomy of a MapStory

jonpmarino Jonathan Marino

Think of a MapStory like a kleenux, and a geospatial narrative like a tissue. MapStory is just our word for a larger communication form – the geospatial narrative. We at MapStory don’t pretend to have the geospatial narrative totally figured out, or have a monopoly on it as a form. We just have one perspective, backstopped by a platform that brings that perspective into reality.

What’s our take?

In designing the MapStory “composing” process, we started by asking ourselves what the basic elements of a story are, and how we might adapt them for the purpose of composing geospatial narratives.

Defining a story – the communicative form that literally makes us human – is a tall order. For our purposes, we settled on four basic elements that make up any MapStory:

Place. Traditional story definitions will refer instead of place to “setting”, since a story obviously doesn’t have to occur in geographic context. We spend most of our time in James Joyce’s Ulysses in the consciousness, for example. In our case, however, we are only interested in stories that are rooted geographically. Every mapstory takes place somewhere on Earth. Instead of setting, we start with place.

Plot. Plot is traditionally defined as “the main events, devised and presented by the writer as an interrelated sequence.” This basically holds true for a MapStory as well. Every MapStory presents events in the form of StoryLayers or StoryPins. These events are then presented by the composer in an interrelated sequence of time and space using Chapters, Timelines and StoryFrames.

Performers. For events to occur, there must action. And for action to occur, there must be performers. Traditional story definitions often refer to “characters”. We choose to speak in terms of performers for two reasons. First, “character” often connotes the idea of fiction. While MapStories might refer to a pre-historical past or a plausible but unconfirmed future, they still always strive to be works of non-fiction. A MapStory is never untrue by intent. Secondly, the word “character” also connotes life in the form of a person or an animal. But, in MapStories the main performer might be plant life like an invasive species, or an environmental force like a hurricane. We found it more useful to speak of the performers of actions to reflect this broad view.

Point. Every MapStory must have a point. Traditional story definitions often refer to a story’s resolution, or main idea, or central theme. We bundle that notion up by simply talking about the “point” of the MapStory. The fact that MapStories have a point is the central element that distinguishes a MapStory from a StoryLayer. StoryLayers stop at the level of description. MapStory’s go further to answer “how” and “why” questions. They have a point.

There, from a logical standpoint, are the basic elements of a MapStory: In a sentence, a MapStory is a geospatial narrative with a plot that has a point and plays out in a place(s) because of actions of performers. In future posts we will discuss more about how this conceptual logic became manifest in the MapStory composer’s technical design.

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MapStory.org seeks to combine three major pillars into a single platform: 1) an importer that enables users to upload spatio-temporal data as “storylayers”, 2) a version editor that enables users to continuously modify storylayers over time and 3) a composer that enables users to combine multiple layers and other forms of mixed media to publish geospatial narratives (or “mapstories”).

The great risk of the MapStory.org project is, and has always been, trying to take on too much. Imagine, for example, if someone tried to smash DropBox, Wikipedia and Medium into a single platform for hosting, versioning and publishing text. Seems crazy and wouldn’t work.

Here we argue, however, that combining all three pillars into a single platform is required for our unique use-case.

Spatiotemporal data and narratives are a more difficult medium to work with than text, and thus require platforms that bring together two fundamental types of users with unique skill sets.

On the one hand, we have those who have experience working with geospatial data and “GIS” platforms and feel comfortable importing and editing data. On the other hand, we have people who don’t feel as comfortable with GIS technology but who nevertheless know a great deal about places, people and events shaping the history of our world.

By bringing these two halves together into one common platform, MapStory makes new knowledge generation possible.

For example, imagine a small town – perhaps like the one you live in. In that town there is a city planner that has worked for the city for decades. He has access to dozens of taxpayer funded datasets that literally show how the city has evolved over time. However, this planner has more than a full time job and little time to dig into any errors that might be in the data, or the nuanced stories they tell. But, he may still very much want to see the data preserved and, more importantly, made more accessible to the public. So, on his lunch break he imports different datasets into MapStory.org as storylayers and sends out a Tweet using the city’s twitter account to let the community know the data is shared. And then he goes back to work.

Second, a retired engineer that worked in the town for decades logs into MapStory and sees a number of storylayers that cover topics she knows alot about. She starts spending a bit of time each evening making edits to the storylayers based on things she sees that are wrong or just missing altogether. She was never trained in GIS specifically, but given her engineering background she is more than able to click around and make additions or edits to the storylayers.

Third, a high school teacher desperately seeking new ways to get her students engaged in the study of history goes to MapStory and finds storylayers focused on her town that have been imported by a city planner and regularly edited. In the same way she pulls up YouTube or Kahn Academy videos for her students, she pulls up these storylayers in class and has a discussion with her students about what they show. The students get interested in how their town evolved, and the teacher assigns the students to use some of these storylayers to make their own mapstory. She helps the students understand that the layers just describe what happened. They don’t explain why change occurred. The students’ mapstories should seek to answer the why question by citing sources, noting pivotal moments, and linking to relevant media.

The teacher sends a message through MapStory.org to the city planner who originally uploaded the storylayers, and the retired engineer who has been editing the storylayers so diligently and invites them to her school to see her students present their finished mapstories.

A few of the mapstories come out so well that a local historical society has decided to display them on a screen in their lobby. The students can’t believe their scholarship is being shared in such a professional and public setting.

This “supply chain” of knowledge production – from working professional to retired expert to teachers and students to public history institutions – would not be possible if the three core components of MapStory.org – importing, editing and storytelling – were not integrated together in a simple workflow.

While we all have different skills and abilities, we all inhabit the same Earth, know something about it and deserve to be empowered to share that knowledge with each other.

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