New Terrastories features released! And a sneak peek of our 2022 roadmap

This year, through funding by the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, Digital Democracy is supporting the development of Terrastories, an open-source place-based storytelling application that is also a featured tool on our Earth Defenders Toolkit. This is one of a series of updates about the new tech work on Terrastories.

Terrastories is primarily maintained by a volunteer stewards team, and this month we are embarking on a major project to rebuild parts of the Terrastories core codebase. With new users from around the globe, this is a good time to take inventory of recent developments, exciting new features, and what we’re up to next 🛠️ 

⛰️ 3D Terrain toggle for online maps

Towards the end of 2020, Mapbox added a new 3D terrain rendering capacity, and we’ve now made it possible to use this in Terrastories! Depending on the geography, the 3D terrain rendering feature can bring a landscape to life in a truly dramatic fashion, and when combined with place-based stories makes for a really powerful interactive user experience. However, rendering the map in 3D does impact performance as it requires allocating more memory resources from your device, and flatter landscapes won’t benefit much from viewing the map in 3D. Therefore, we’ve added an easy toggle to turn it on and off, available in the Terrastories Theme options for community admins.

Fun fact: a group of participants worked on Terrastories at this beautiful mountainous location just north of San Francisco in 2019, during a Ruby for Good build-a-thon event called Ruby by the Bay!

🔊 Audio for place name pronunciation

A longstanding request from Indigenous communities in Colombia, Turtle Island, and elsewhere has been an audio feature for place markers allowing them to add a clip of somebody pronouncing the name of that place, in line with global language revitalization efforts recognizing the importance of place-based knowledge. This feature has now been added with the support of a volunteer. (🙌 Thanks EitanFuturo!)

🗃️ Clustering places on the map

We added a feature to cluster places that are in proximity of each other at a certain zoom level. “Cluster points” show the number of places that can be found there, and clicking or pressing on them zooms you in until some of the places can be teased apart. (🙌 Thanks willeyen!)

📦 Setting map bounding box as optional

Bounding boxes can be helpful to keep the user focused on a specific area of interest, but is not always needed, and a volunteer contributor has changed the code to make it possible to not have a bounding box, and improved the validations that check for the SW and NE latitude and longitude coordinates to set the bounding box. (🙌 Thanks willeyen!)

One result of setting a global bounding box is that it cuts off the map right at the international date line in the Pacific Ocean. This has the unfortunate consequence of splitting the traditional lands and waters of seafaring communities in the Pacific. Shown here is Terrastories without a bounding box.

☑️ Topic, Language, and Speaker’s Community fields made available as story filters

Terrastories has a few metadata fields about stories, places, and speakers, and three of these have been added as options for filtering stories if users have entered values for these: Topic, Language, and Speaker’s Community. Our partners Ohneganos are looking forward to using these fields to filter stories from the six different Haudenosaunee communities of Cayuga, Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, and Tuscarora. (🙌 Thanks noelledusahel and others!)

The options for Topics and all of the other story filters are set by the community users.

💬 ¡Increased Spanish and Portuguese localization!

As more communities in Latin America are starting to use Terrastories, we worked on improving our Spanish and Portuguese translations across the application including the admin menu. If you’d like to help translate Terrastories content, please let us know! In the future, we’d like to use a service like CrowdIn for translating Terrastories.

Currently, Terrastories is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch, and Matawai. It’s on our roadmap to make it possible for community admins to decide which translated languages show up as options for their Terrastories community.

🛣️ What’s coming up in 2022 (and beyond)

In March, we were thrilled to announce support from the Association of Tribal Archives, Museums and Libraries, and we are now getting started with the technology-building component of this project! First up is a major refactor or restructuring of the application codebase, which will greatly simplify installing Terrastories online and offline, as well as setting up a dev environment for open-source contributors. Following that, we are planning the following features:

  • Public view for Terrastories communities (with maps and data the community has decided to share with the public).
  • A new back-end content management system for admin users.
  • Curriculum builder feature to create and activate curricula composed of selected stories, to play in sequential order.
  • Enhanced user permissions for granular permissions control over viewing and editing content.
  • Feature enhancements for humanities data, including ability to add PDFs to stories, color scheme for place markers per Indigenous taxonomies, and adding more data fields in alignment with community needs.
  • Last but not least, for the first time ever, we plan to create a comprehensive user guide to Terrastories on Gitbook, akin to the recently published Mapeo Gitbook.

We are excited about how these new features and resources will enable Indigenous and other communities to better use Terrastories to create cultural mapping and knowledge repositories!

Beyond these improvements funded by ATALM, we have a roadmap of ideas and new features, grounded first and foremost in the experiences of our Indigenous partners. If you know of a funding opportunity, students looking for an open-source volunteering opportunity, or a build-a-thon event that we could participate in to help build these features, please feel free to share those with the Terrastories stewards team.

Stay up to date with Terrastories work this year at, our Github organization, @TerrastoriesApp on Twitter.