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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why a 3 Minute Video May be Better Than an Interactive Map to Understand the Nepal Earthquake

With each new natural or man-made disaster, technologies companies work hard to share valuable data and visualizations. I'm trained, having been in the GIS media for many years, to expect an e-mail from Esri, for example, that shares a social media map and perhaps another visualization. That e-mail went out this past week related to the Nepal earthquake, as both GIS User and GIS Cafe confirm.

Wood brick temple before the earthquake, as shown
in the video.

I find these and similar maps have begun to "all look the same" to me and rarely help me understand the underlying story, geographically or otherwise. Perhaps that's why when the Columbia Journalism Review suggested I watch a three minute Facebook video to understand the situation, I did. The more embeddable YouTube version is below.

Why the Video Story Map Works 

It's Not Interactive

I'm a fan of interactive maps, but I'm not a fan of "click the button for the next item" maps. I've compared them less than favorably to dull textbooks. I'm not a fan of interactive "drop you in a pool of data to let you fend for yourself" maps aimed at people who are not too familiar with geographic tools or the issue at hand (that is, most "regular people"). Sometimes we need to be guided, lead by someone who knows more; this video does that.

It's Curated

I'm sure there are many more sites of ancient pagodas and buildings (both standing and damaged) than Andy Carvin chose to include in his tour. But again, for those of us who know little about Nepal, its geography or history, a few examples are plenty to get the point across.

It's Short

The three minute tour certainly fits into my attention span - especially since I need not follow blind alleys to find "the story."

It's Plenty Geographic

I know very little about Nepal, save a sense of roughly where it is with respect to China and India. But now I have a sense of the city of Kathmandu and the valley in which it sits. The video makes clear the examples in the valley are not far the capital, but it's clear Mt. Everest is a bit further away.

It's Narrated

There are stories that are told and stories that are read. There's a difference. As a big fan of radio and podcasts, I'm listener first and a reader second. Carvin's weary tone helps tell the story. Moreover, hearing the words throughout the story is a completely different sensory experience than "clicking on a symbol"to hear audio about a location. That narration helped one term stick out for me, one term Carvin mentions several times: wood. So many of the sacred, old and even newer buildings are built from wood, including with wooden bricks. As Carvin put it, these structures "never stood a chance."


I'm a media geek so Andy Carvin is a name I know. He was National Public Radio's senior product manager for online communities, aka the "social media guy" for many years. Last February he joined First Look Media as an editor for Repored.ly, a social news experiment. He produced the video for Reported.ly and posted it on Facebook.

Parting Thought

This non-flashy video, by a news organization with no feet on the ground in Nepal, reminds those of us telling geographic stories that we need to examine all the communications tools in our quiver. Just because we have the tools to (easily) create a particular kind of interactive map, doesn't mean it's the best form to reach the intended audience.