Spent some time today with Meograph, a Web-based new software program that combines a multimedia timeline with a Google map. For now, it’s only available for users of the Chrome browser, but the developers promise it will be upgraded to work with other browsers.
What I like is its ease of use. Before you even sign up for the program, it invites you to create what it calls a “meograph”. But if you skip that step and go to their web site, there are several demos, including an excellent one done by a San Diego TV station on the Trayvon Martin case.
You start a Meograph by adding a Moment to a map. That might entail a date and location, e.g., the time when George Zimmerman first called police to report spotting Trayvon Martin walking through his neighborhood. The location is marked on a Google map, but then the program asks you to upload media, either photos or audio or video. The images are automatically sized and placed on the screen so they don’t obscure the map location. As you add more “moments”, more locations appear on the map. In the Trayvon Martin piece, e.g., there are the events of the night when Martin was killed, followed by statements from public officials, rallies protesting the death and court appearances for George Zimmerman. Yes, a video piece would have conveyed the material with more emotion, but it would have taken a lot longer to produce and the ease of making updates is a Meograph strength.
One very nice feature is that if you don’t have audio or video to upload, or if you upload a still image, you can click a button and record your own narration, using your computer’s built-in microphone or an external mic.
When you’re finished click Done and the “meograph” is ready for playback. It plays the presentation sequentially, highlighting each item on the map. If you later want to edit the content or to add additional media, no problem, just click on the Edit button.
There’s an Embed button, so it’s easy to add the content to an existing Web site, and links to send the Meograph to social media.
Meograph is also Web-based, so it is available on whatever computer you happen to have with you.
I want to play around more with the program, but it seems great for beginners, to get them to visualize a story in its separate components, with words and accompanying images. I think it would be useful as a sort of storyboard to block out a proposed piece, that might end up as a separate video.
But it’s also very good as a standalone timeline, particularly for stories that are going to be updated regularly. It would be very easy to use to plot crimes or accidents on the map and then use it to animate the data chronologically.
It is not as good at replacing video for some stories, as one of the Meograph demos on the Arab Spring and another on Whitney Houston’s life reveal. While the timeline is an excellent organizational tool for both, the requirement that the images pull back for each distinct Moment to reveal the map beneath is awkward where the map is not an integral part of the story. One important feature would allow producers to hide the map and just edit from one image or video to the next.
And, as always, if you don’t write to your media, the result is pretty boring. In the Arab Spring demo, e.g., the author makes little reference to geography, so the existence of the map as a background doesn’t add much at all to the story. A better writer would have used it to show the geographic scope of the turmoil taking place.