Create Your Own Story Maps, For Free: A Simple Tutorial

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about story maps lately, and you’ve probably seen some pretty cool examples of what people are doing with them. But have you created one yourself?

If you have an ArcGIS Online Organizational account, you’ve already set.  But you don’t need one of those to build a story map. In fact, you can create story maps for free.

So why not start experimenting with story maps yourself and see what you come up with?


You can start here by creating a free account:

01 free public account

Click on “Sign Up for a Free Account”, which brings up this screen:

02 free public account

Click on “Create a Public Account”, which steps you through the account creation process.

Once you’ve created the account, click on “Map” in the top navigation.  Select which basemap you would like to use, but don’t worry about it too much at this point—you can always change this later. Here I’ve selected the National Geographic basemap.

03 basemap

Now save your webmap.  This is the webmap you will use to build you web mapping app, or “story map.”

Now click on “Share”, check the box next to “Everyone (public)”, and then click on “Make a Web Application”.

Now choose a template.  To make things as simple as possible for your first experience building a story map, select the “Map Tour” template (it’s the only template with an interactive “builder” mode right now) and then click “Publish”.

04 template

After you’ve clicked “Save and Publish”, click on “go to the item now”.

05 item

From this details page about your new story map, click on “Configure App” and then click on the b1 button.

o6 advanced options

Next click on “Start a New Tour”.

06 start a new tour

And there you have it.  Your new (but not yet populated) story map.

08 new tour

Now click the “Add” button, which brings up a dialog to add your first item to the map.  The first step is to add your media.  The two options are “Picture” and “Video”.

09 add image

For “Picture”, you simply paste in the URLs of your main image and a thumbnail.  Ideally the sizes should be 1000 x 750 for your main image and 200 x 140 for the thumbnail, but almost any size will work and the app will resize it on the fly (but remember that there is some overhead with that, so a large story map with non-standard sized images can be a little slow).  Another thing to remember is that the main image and the thumbnail can also be two different images—they don’t have to be the same exact image, just at two different sizes.

For “Video”, you can put in the URL for a video hosted on YouTube or Vimeo, then click the  button and the app will automatically create the thumbnail for you.  If your video is hosted somewhere else, select “Other” and then put in the URL of the thumbnail.  An interesting, if undocumented, feature of “Video” – “Other” is that you can actually put in any URL—not just for a video, but for ANY WEB PAGE.  Just be aware that not all web pages will work in this context.

Once you’re done entering information about your Media, click on the “Information” tab and enter a name and a caption for your item.  You can include html in both the Name and the Caption, do that you can bold or italicize text, add links, etc.

10 information

When done entering your information, click on the “Location” tab.  You can pan/zoom and annual mark the location, or you can type in and address or place or longitude, latitude in the search box.

11 location

Once your item has been correctly located on the map, click “Add tour point”. You’ve done it–you’ve added your first item to your story map!  And it should look something like this:

12 webcam

Now add the rest of your items to the map the same way.  Remember to save often.  Once all the points are on your map, you can click on “Organize” and interactively drag and drop items to change the order on the map.


And when you’re all done with your story map and ready for people to see it, make sure to click on “Share”.


There are obviously a lot more things you can do to customize your story map, but this is the most basic way to start.  So try it out, push some boundaries, and most of all, have some fun with story maps!

One thought on “Create Your Own Story Maps, For Free: A Simple Tutorial

  1. Pingback: Create Your Own Story Maps, For Free: A Simple Tutorial | GIS Tidings

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