15 free tools for better online storytelling

Whoever said “practice makes perfect” was a liar. Human beings have been practicing storytelling for over 35,000 years (that we know of), and there is still plenty of room for improvement.

For all intents and purposes, storytelling is the art of making people interested in what you have to say. If you can get them to remember what you’ve said … bonus points.

Early storytellers quickly learned that a tale could be far more riveting (and as result, more enduring) if it captured one’s imagination and invoked thought.

Every time the skies open up and a new technology arrives on the scene, we take a stab at reinventing one of the oldest traditions known to man. And guess what … it’s about that time again.

Just like the early storytellers of our past, we have stumbled onto a new way of capturing imagination and invoking thought.

The invention of the internet, and the tidal flow of information that followed, has equipped us with a way to tell stories that Neanderthals would have drooled over.

I always try to keep my eyes open for new ways of visualizing news. When I find a really good one, it gives me a glimmer of hope that one day the news industry is going to collectively embrace everything that the web has to offer.

Here’s my collection so far:

Data Visualization

Swivel is a free web application that creates incredibly detailed charts (bar, area, pie, line) from a spreadsheet document, and then feeds you the html code to embed it on a website.

Flare is an open source ActionScript library for creating visualizations that run in the Adobe Flash Player. From basic charts and graphs to complex interactive graphics, the toolkit supports data management, visual encoding, animation, and interaction techniques. As seen on BBC News, Slate Magazine, ABC News and more.

Chartle is a free web application for creating Bar/Pie/Line Chards, Plots & Diagrams, Business Flow Charts, Timelines, Maps, Motion Charts, Gauges … the list goes on. When you’re all done it’ll give you the code needed to embed the chart on your site.

Many Eyes can create a range of data visualizations from the ordinary to the experimental. Scatterplots, Matrix Charts, Network Diagrams, Histograms, Treemaps, Word Clouds. The final visualizations can be exported as a static image or an interactive diagram.

Tableizer is a great tool when you just want a quick table for your website. Paste your spreadsheet in the box, and it gives you a preformatted HTML table.


Timetoast is an easy to use timeline that incorporates images. This free online web application provides you with a code snippet to embed your timeline as a flash element in your website.

Dipity is one of the most interesting tools that I’ve come across. It blends a social networking site with a visual timeline. It can be updated on a continuous basis where other users can follow your activity. You could model an entire news publication website around this concept. Dipity allows you to create widgets that can be embedded on pretty much any site. Telegraph UK, Guardian UK, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Huffington Post, Fox and more have already started using Dipity as a way of tracking current events.

Capzles embodies the spirit of online storytelling. It integrates photos and audio, and videos to create multimedia storylines.


Umapper lets you create embeddable interactive Flash maps and geogames. You can track the maps usage and even incorporate advertising. USA Today, The Star Tribune, National Geographic, The Huffington Post are all using this tool for generating maps.

Quikmaps lets you manually mark up a Google map and then embed it in your site.

Atlas is another popular tool for creating interactive maps. The Orlando Sentinel, Boston.com, The Palm Beach Post, and the Cincinnati Enquirer all use Atlas.


With Animoto you upload photos, videos and music, pick a style and then it automatically edits your media into a really slick look montage.

For the bloggers out there … NextGen Gallery is a plugin for the WordPress Blogging/CMS platform that offers a great way of displaying photos when you have a lot of them that you want to show off. With the plugin installed, you can upload all of your images through the WordPress back end, and then present them as slideshows, thumbnail galleries, carousels or as an album.

Cooliris is a browser plug-in that presents videos, graphics, and images as an interactive wall of media. More importantly, they have tools for web developers to incorporate it into a site.

Category: InnovationsResources


  1. visual stories in map layout.

    hi thankyou for this post. very helpful.
    have you seen/heard of any tool (other than adobe illustrator) that allows you take 1000 odd images and drag drop them in a workspace grid layout (say 400 images) to create a “visual story”

    sorta like a a gameboard
    using drag/drop
    snap to grid

    also need layers

    the closest i have stumbled is comic composer (but that is only about 20 grid, so bit big for my detailed visual story.

    or storyist for movie script writers is great space but does do images in volume well.

    many thanks

  2. Nice article , Apropos , if you requires to merge some PDF files , my business found a tool here https://goo.gl/9GR8Y0.

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Article by: Matt French

Assistant art director for The Globe and Mail. Matthew is an award-winning editorial designer based in Toronto, Canada.