When The New York Times revealed its interactive website story, “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek,” two years ago, it caught the entire industry by storm. The story featured a scrolling template, maps, audio clips and slideshows. For publishers who want “to snowfall,” mapping company CartoDB has developed Odyssey.js, an open source tool that enables journalists and designers to create interactive stories. Thanks to a $35,000 grant from the Knight Prototype Fund, a beta version launched in July at cartodb.github.io/odyssey.js.
According to CartoDB head of communications Álvaro Ortiz, Odyssey.js gives users without coding skills to ability to build interactive stories using text, images, videos and maps. By using the available CartoDB mapping technology, Odyssey.js takes storytelling a step further. Ortiz said the tool helps journalists “understand the data being collected and start using it.”
Odyssey.js users can choose from three templates (scrolling, slide and torque). Users can also create their own custom template. From there, they can craft their story in the Odyssey Sandbox, a simple editing tool that allows users to mix in text, multimedia and map based interaction.
Since its release, Odyssey.js has been implemented in several ways. The New York Daily News used it in an investigative piece. The story tracked 16 shooting incidents that occurred in a span of 48 hours and used Odyssey.js to create a slide template to geolocalize the reported incidents of gunfire and produce a map to give context to the facts in the story. Recently, Twitter used it to create storytelling features like “Ramadan: How the World Celebrates” and “Wimbledon 2014: Men’s Final Match.”
Ortiz said when newsrooms want to find new ways to tell stories, they face two problems: they need developers and they need time. A product like Odyssey.js would solve both issues.
He said having the support of the Knight Foundation shows that interactive storytelling tools are needed in journalism. “It’s a completely different tool,” he said. “It’s great that they support these kinds of projects.”
As the digital landscape has shifted over the last five years, Ortiz said he has seen more newsrooms willing to experiment. Interactive storytelling and tools like Odyssey.js that help journalists create it allows journalists to provide “intelligent content in different angles,” he said.
Ortiz said Odyssey.js will continue to be an open source toll and will be integrated into CartoDB over the next few months.