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 are users who have experience working with geospatial data and “GIS” platforms and feel comfortable importing and editing data. On the other hand are 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 mapstoriwa. 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 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 decides 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.