Bring Your Project to Life with Knight Lab's Publishing Tools

It doesn't seem like the distant past in which the idea of building interactive content for the web seemed like a much larger feat to accomplish. Publishing content has long been a dead simple process of firing up a blog and writing. But the idea of interactive maps and timelines and audio/visual elements that could bring your content to life was something reserved for people who knew a thing or two about scripting languages and could piece together something from various half-baked projects in different forms. We've been doing it for years with students using things like Simile that worked ok but didn't play very well with other pieces of software. And projects like that make it difficult to get your data in there in the first place. Whether it be a CSV file you're loading on a web server or the need to get longitude and latitude data points in order to make anything worth looking at in Neatline, this stuff just wasn't very accessible for integrating easily into larger digital projects.

It might have been sometime about a year ago when we started playing with Timeline JS, one of several tools from the Knight Lab Publisher's Toolbox that Northwestern has put out. Ryan Brazell had started using Timeline JS here and there as a handy replacement for the kludgy and complicated ways we were doing timelines in courses and pretty soon we were all recommending it as a dead simple approach. And not only was it visually appealling, but it earned high points for the ability to collaboratively enter data by making use of Google Spreadsheets that could be shared amongst peers and edited easily. The data you enter appears in the timeline immediately and it pulls interactive media from YouTube, Twitter, Wikipedia, and a whole host of other sites in automatically. To top it all off the whole thing is open source on GitHub and infinitely hackable for the true geeks that wanted to make the script do crazy stuff like consume external JSON feeds and visualize them. Just look at one example of how the Denver Post made the story of the shooting in a Colorado Theater come alive.


It doesn't stop at timelines either. Just this past Spring we had been trying to get more involved with GIS and doing mapping work with Geography students who were attempting to tell a particular narrative based on geospatial data. We used Neatline which ended up being a bit of a hot mess, it never was the right tool for the job given how embedded it is to the Omeka framework of building a repository of items for archival purposes. To add to that the ability to create and edit the mapping data was nonintuitive and often just didn't work depending on the theme you were using it in. Late in the semester Ryan strikes again dropping the knowledge bombs about some newer projects out of Knight Lab including [StoryMap JS](http://storymap.knightlab.com/) which looked to be an elegant interface for doing exactly that type of work. It's also built on Google Drive but this time they've built a custom interface in Drive that looks akin to building a slide deck but with Google Maps powering the background of each slide. Finding points on the map was no longer a complicated process of narrowing down the coordinates, but rather as simple as a search and dragging a pin around. As with Timeline JS, social network and audio/visual site content gets pulled in automatically and the whole thing can be absolutely stunning.
And what's awesome about StoryMap is that it doesn't have to be a map at all! The [Gigapixel version of StoryMap](http://storymap.knightlab.com/gigapixel.html) allows you to take one massive image and move around the image zooming in and out with each slide to create a narrative of that particular work. You can imagine how powerful this is for archival scans of old maps or documents as well as for works of art. Here's an example of that being used with Bosch's *Garden of Earthly Delights*.



It blows my mind that tools like these are so accessible and yet we continue to default to writing with static text and images with the occasional video embed. The ability to craft a complex narrative that takes new forms and tell a story in ways that words alone couldn't capture is thrilling to me and I'm taking every opportunity when I talk with students about publishing online to promote easy tools like these that will set their work apart from the pack and bring their ideas to life.