Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

New open source tool for journalists and designers to weave interactive stories

July 8, 2014, 8 a.m., Posted by Álvaro Ortiz

Odyssey.js is a project funded by the Knight Prototype Fund developed by mapping company CartoDB. Today it is releasing the beta version of an open source tool that enables journalists and designers to create interactive stories. Below, Álvaro Ortiz, head of communications at CartoDB, writes about the launch.

Why is text the predominant format for content on the Web? Why are we hardly taking advantage of the new possibilities the digital medium offers to communicate? Why is it that when someone talks about storytelling we just think of text and some images?

Although the Web is 25 years old, we are still at the dawn of using the medium for interactive storytelling. Technical complexity and development resources needed to create interactive pieces are two major drawbacks that stop innovation (the economic context of newsrooms further complicates things).

In recent years we have seen several examples of interactive storytelling in journalism (from the now classic New York Times Snowfall to ESPN’s Out in the Great Alone), exciting attempts to reimagine how we can tell stories through a screen. But although imagining interactive stories using text, images, videos, maps is easy, building them is not.

Welcome Odyssey.js, an open source tool for journalists, designers and developers to create interactive stories with ease and speed of development. Odyssey.js enables users without coding skills to build interactive stories using text, images, videos and maps with custom interactions through the included sandbox; at the same time it is a powerful JavaScript library that is meant to grow as developers create new interactions to share.

You can check out some Odyssey.js stories that organizations have already created,

Odyssey.js is being developed by the team behind CartoDB, the open source mapping tool that lets you visualize and make sense of your data. Many media organizations use CartoDB to solve mapping needs, such as creating real-time election maps, interactive animated maps and data journalism visualizations. With the Odyssey.js project, CartoDB adds storytelling capabilities to its suite of tools, continuing our line of work that aims to make it easier to work with data and maps to tell stories.

We celebrate the support provided by Knight Foundation for the development of this project and for many others that accelerates innovation in journalism. On the Odyssey.js website you can read tutorials, access the complete documentation and code, watch screencasts, and, of course, start creating your interactive stories: cartodb.github.io/odyssey.js

The Knight Prototype Fund provides early-stage information projects with $35,000, human-centered design training and additional support to go from idea to demo in six months. The next deadline to apply is Aug. 1.