You may be familiar with Google Maps as a place for navigation, discovering businesses and landmarks. However, the part of Google’s mapping examined in this guide is My Maps and Google Earth. Both of these applications enable users to create maps they can share with others. They are web-based and do not require software to be downloaded.
My Maps allows you to identify specific locations, add photos, notes and connect locations together.
A Google Earth project enables you to tell a visual story connected to a specific location by adding slides, text, folders, images and videos from YouTube.
The main difference between My Maps and Google Earth is that Google Earth is far more visual, animated and 3D. It is almost a mix of presentation software and mapping software with a playful approach to content exploration. Therefore, if you want to create a visual project, try creating a story within Google Earth. Google Earth has a range of creation tools for telling stories on the platform. You can create a tour across locations within Google Earth and add slides, text, images and video.
Creating location-based stories are perfect for sharing local history and telling the stories of people and places. If you are using digital maps for engagement for the first time consider reading the following guide for beginners:
If you are looking for something more advanced than My Maps then take a look at Google Earth:
Across the Digital Engagement Toolkit, we are looking at who engages with a particular platform by generation. You will find more detail on this within the platform finder. When looking at audience engagement by generation it is important to keep in mind it is not definitive of everyone’s behaviour. However, understanding the broad trend of a generation’s approach to a platform is useful to understand the audiences you are most likely to find there. For the purposes of this toolkit, we are using terminology that defines audiences with the following demographic terminology: Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z.
These location based applications are likely to be most intriguing to Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z who will be most familiar with digital maps. There is an existing audience who like Google Earth experiences and who may be looking for new and interesting ways to engage as well as the audiences that cross from Google Arts & Culture to Google Earth and vice versa. You could consider if registering with Google Arts and Culture is right for your archive. You can find out more about Google Arts and Culture in our Digital Exhibitions platform guide.
The story that you tell via these platforms will need to be location-based, however that shouldn’t limit your creativity. There are many ways you can tell a story through locations. It’s important to note you will need a story that involves multiple locations. A good place to start might be to think of yourself as a historical tour guide in a physical space, taking tourists around key locations. But where a tour guide can only point to where things used to be and describe what was, these platforms offer new opportunities to show audiences imagery and stories from the past.
To tell a great story in My Maps or Google Earth, you will need:
- To have chosen the locations that are the stops on your ‘tour’.
- A narrative or through-line that connects each of these locations. These can be stories that centre around people, places or ideas.
- Good imagery to go with each location.
- An understanding of the intention of the story you are wanting to tell.
- Optional – you could consider adding relevant video content if you have that available.
You will then be able to create a link to share your project or embed it within a webpage.
When approaching storytelling within these platforms it is important not to ignore the possibility of telling your story within a global context. Both My Maps and Google Earth are a perfect opportunity to make connections between your collections and geography. Creating a visual journey your audience can follow allows them to gain an active understanding of the story and landscape that surrounds the collection.
You could consider the last location on your map story to be your actual archive. This will enable you to embed yourselves as part of the story and give information on how your audience contact you, follow you on social media and even donate to the work that you do, allowing you to capture any new audiences that discover you through this project.
Creative thinking and exercises
The opportunity with these platforms is how you connect a story from your archive to the world and how you connect the world to your archive.
Exercise one – explore
Open up Google Earth and spend some time in the ‘Voyager’ mode and explore the existing stories that exist on Google Earth. Note down any particular likes or dislikes in relation to how stories are being presented and any difficulties you have navigating the platform. These learnings can be applied into the design of your own Google Earth experience.
Exercise two – discuss
It will be important to take some time to consider your collections in this new context. Below are some points and discussions to help you think about your collections as location based stories:
- What items within your collection have interesting journeys connected to them? How might you map this journey out and what story does this tell?
- Discuss the journeys of the people contained in your collections and whose journey you think is the most interesting to map out? How might you map out their life and what themes or ideas might be explored?
- Discuss what within your collection demonstrates how your local area has changed. What is no longer on Google Maps and what remnants of the past exist that have interesting stories.
- Discuss together how you might map a story map that articulates how a place has changed over time.
Let’s examine some storytelling content on Google Earth as a way to understand utilising the platform for storytelling.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is visually striking. The creators have chosen strong imagery that would make an audience want to see more. It also utilises the platform’s main purpose of exploration of landscape and architecture in a meaningful way.
They have also chosen the story of Dracula and the Halloween genre, themes that are culturally familiar and could appeal to a wide audience. It may be worthwhile considering what themes and ideas from your archive may interest those who do not traditionally interact with and seek out archives.
They have kept text minimal, utilised Street View and made available 360 photos to enable the audience to immerse themselves in the location. This is embracing the platform for what it offers. More text would be welcome and many people would enjoy reading more than this experience offers, however, throughout this Google Earth Project, you feel like you are learning as well as being able to embrace and explore interesting locations within a new context.
Honoring Pride takes you across the world to highlight Pride monuments of individuals and of notable cultural places.
Once again the amount of text within this particular example is fairly brief and perhaps more text within an experience would provide further depth of meaning and connection to a specific topic. If you are thinking about using Google Earth for your archive, think about the text you would include that would be relevant and would enrich the experience. Consider adding web links to external content for those that may wish to learn more.
What can really bring these experiences to life is utilising 360 imagery. Below are some guides for this:
Google Maps Help – Create or import photo spheres
Pinheads Interactive – How to create 360 images in 5 easy steps
How to measure impact
There is not an easy way to measure the number of viewers that have engaged with your Google Earth project or My Maps file. You will be able to retrieve some data from the Google Earth folder in your Google Drive. However, if measuring how many people have engaged is important, it may be better to measure this through social media post engagement or via embedding in your website.
Google Maps and Google Earth are not the most accessible platforms. However within the text you provide, you can describe the images used within the experience. Google offer the following advice on accessibility functions:
Google Earth Outreach – Creating a map or story in Google Earth Web
YouTube playlist – Google Earth creation tools
Google Earth Outreach – Visualise your data on a custom map using Google My Maps. A great guide for creating your own map for the first time.
The National Archives blog – Engaging the public with archive material at East Riding Archives. A blog post offering insights into developing themed historic walking trails through an app to local communities.