Opinion

Lost in the DAM

While recording Berlin’s second record, we ended up with a few too many tracks. You know, albums and cassettes had their limitations. One of the extra tracks was called Lost in the Crowd. I loved this track because it was one of the few on which I played guitar. I was officially a keyboard player for the band; but I was actually a better guitar player than I was a keyboard player–go figure. (Somehow, it made sense at the time.)

Anyway, because this was considered a “throw away” track, we got to have fun with it. For me, this meant bringing out my inner Blue Oyster Cult. You can hear my guitar at the opening and during the outro (3:30). But the most interesting part is at about 2:15. Right after our real guitar player, Ric, finishes his solo, I sort of stepped out of bounds. The part I added ended up in a feedback-sustain that actually caused an argument in the band. Some argued that this wasn’t Berlin. They said it stepped on Ric’s “new wave” guitar part that was more who were were. Others saw it as being cool.

Ultimately, all my noise stayed because, after all, this track wasn’t going to be on the album or cassette. It would be only on the CD player thing, and no one had a CD player.

So, here we are, just a few years later. I find myself writing a new piece for CMSWire that discusses how mandatory metadata fields or having too many metadata fields, and a few others things, can actually lead to content becoming lost in the DAM. Now, I know that this is going to piss off some people who are believers in these things. But I’m getting used to this social media-staged warfare. In fact, the anticipation sort of put me into the same rebel mood I was in when we recorded Lost in the Crowd, back in 1984.

So, I’m ready for it. Tell me I don’t understand DAM policy. Tell me my experience is theoretical and not practical. Tell me all about it. All I know is that my guitar was howling that day. It was so loud that it was like a taste of World War III. And by adding this track, we didn’t know what to expect. Would our synth fans abandon us? Would real rockers make fun of us? I remember hearing it all.

But sometimes, you just have to turn things up to 11 and deal with the consequences. Sometimes you have to admit when something isn’t working and either be ready to fix it or walk away.

Read Lost in the DAM here.

And thanks to the fact that there are others who are willing to shake things up, we have YouTube, so you can actually hear my inspiration too. (And another thing, David, new-wavers aren’t supposed to have facial hair. So lose the Clark Gable mustache.)

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Goodbye Ben

Ben Smidt

Ben Smidt

Just a few moments ago, I said goodbye to a Picturepark coworker whom I have enjoyed working with very much. Those of you who know Ben Smidt know what a good guy he is. During his time with Picturepark, he gave his all; I simply could not have asked for more.

On Monday, Ben starts up with another company that can offer him some opportunities that we could not offer. He leaves with our complete blessings and best wishes.

Ben, you were my partner-in-crime here at Picturepark. We did a lot of good things. We fought the machines and (usually) won. We conspired on what was possible and it often turned out better than we expected. From DSG to eDAM to the webinars to the website redesign to DAM Guru Program, #LearnDAM and that damned 7Steps in those “miserable” Kindle and ePUB formats. I think it’s safe to say that the combined efforts of every other DAM vendor marketing team on earth don’t begin to approach what we’ve done for the DAM community this past year.

Thank you for your tireless commitment to Picturepark. And for your dedication to always showing customers and the DAM community integrity and genuine concern for their interests and needs, even when it meant more work for us. Thank you also for surfing my “diva” moments with absolute and evergreen patience. Thank you most of all for the DAMMY. Had it not been for your nomination, I would not have it.

I hope you take with you one thing that we practiced as a team: Doing the right thing to the highest standard of quality is the only worthwhile goal—ever. And when that isn’t possible, we revise the plan; we don’t sacrifice the deliverable.

Thank you, my friend. It has been a pleasure.

– David

The DAM that can Cure Death

Are DAM vendors trying to construct software that can do anything?

Are DAM vendors trying to build software that can do anything?

It’s been more than 20 years since digital asset management software was known simply as an image database. In this time, DAM has evolved so far that we sometimes still call it an image database just to make it understandable to newbies.

There’s no question that DAMs have become much more than image databases. The question is why. The vast majority of DAM customers purchase their systems to manage images. And even those who do use DAM to manage Office documents, videos and more, usually have more images in their systems than anything else.

In straying from the focused, easy-to-understand (and easy-to-sell) image-database class of software, the DAM industry is now mired in a software discussion that is always too complicated. Worse, we have created an industry that virtually no one understands.

An Industry without a Market

If I tell you that I sell software that enables you to manage PowerPoint presentations, you’d understand the value of what I’m offering, even if you had no need for the software yourself. You could probably even explain it to others. If I tell you that I also sell software that automatically converts InDesign files into PDFs so people can preview them over the Web, you’d probably understand the point of that product too.

But if I told you that my software does both, you’d look at me like I’m selling an erectile dysfunction pill that’s also perfect for reducing all those bothersome symptoms of menstruation.

Who was today’s Digital Asset Management designed for?

Marketing has been traditionally been considered DAM’s low-hanging fruit, but Marketing is not the only tree in the forest. Museums and universities use DAM too. So do governments and countless other types of organizations.

But few DAM vendors are willing to carve themselves niches and then operate solely from within those niches. It’s not like MediaBeacon has raised its hand to be the DAM provider for Education, while Picturepark takes on museums and North Plains cozies up with governments. All DAM vendors think they’re perfect for all segments.

In fairness, the digital asset management use case for many of these segments is similar. But in trying to address the needs of all segments within a single software genre, we provide products that are too horizontal. The fact is, today’s DAMs offer virtually no segment-specific benefits unless, of course, you’re willing to pay for API-based development services. We have pardoned our unwillingness to focus on specific markets by saying that our DAM software has evolved into a panacea “platform” that’s perfect for everything. One size, color and style fits all—like it or not.

Make no mistake, there is an absolute need for the functionality we expect from digital asset management software. The question is whether this “everyone, everything” target market we’re collectively imagining is willing to put up with plain-wrapped DAM, when the makers of CMS and other adjacent technologies are offering DAM features that fit neatly into digestible conversations: Here is your website; here is software to create the content on your website; here is the menu item you’ll use to manage the images and movies you use on your website.

When presented in this context, digital asset management seems as obvious and necessary as electricity. But we DAM vendors don’t present DAM in contexts this simple. It’s not enough for us to design DAMs to cure a specific illness, we strive for DAMs that can cure death.

Targeting the Luxury-Camping Segment

What’s wrong with this picture?

Imagine a 1960s Jaguar E-type—cherry red, convertible, stunning. Now imagine adding a canopy roll bar and mud tires so big and thick that you could climb a mountain. Now that you have a sexy/safe vehicle that can take you anywhere you want to go, you realize it should also have a camper shell for those times when you’re just having too much fun to go home.

What you’re imagining right now is what DAM software has become.

When you have an “automotive solution” that’s as clearly defined as the Jaguar E-type, you ignore the feature requests of Ranger Rick and the Soccer Moms. Successful car makers understand this but DAM vendors just can’t say no. Whatever we’re asked to do, we do. Then we do whatever some other vendor was asked to do, too, just so we can say we offer it all.

We have collectively delivered the Terrafugia of enterprise software and we wonder why our industry doesn’t grow at the pace we expect.

A Creative Burst of Limitation

The DAM industry has fallen victim to our medium—software. We aren’t bound by the physical restraints that challenge automakers. We are free to do anything, and that’s exactly what we have done.

But when it comes to the design of anything, limitations can be an effective seed for creative inspiration. Without them, we can lose focus. Limits keep UPS branding brown and they keep Joni Mitchell from releasing her Death Metal debut.

When limits are not imposed upon us, we must define them for ourselves. It is the mature thing to do. And in doing so, we might even find ourselves redefining Digital Asset Management into something people actually understand.

Images via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why No One Trusts Your Content

You can trust me; I'm a writer! If I say it, it must be true.

When you think a vendor’s white paper sucks, tell them. Better yet, review it on a public forum. Force vendors to produce better content.

In writing about a white paper entitled, Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field, released by the CMO Council, author G. David Dodd got me thinking about why most content that’s released by vendors, well, sucks. (Read Mr. Dodd’s blog post here.) It doesn’t surprise me that only 9% of the respondents surveyed for the white paper said they valued content that came from vendors.

Nine percent is a slap in the face that most vendors actually deserve. I can recall many (many) years ago when I was hired as a freelancer to write a “white paper” for a company. I did my research and turned in what I thought was a fair and balanced assessment of the product. They were horrified. To avoid a lengthy story, I will say just that I learned what they actually wanted was an 8-page brochure that was written on a white paper template.

To make matters worse, I have learned over the years that most–MOST–readers don’t want actual white papers either. Perhaps we’ve been conditioned to not read more than 140 characters at a time, or our minds have been softened by too many infographics. Whatever the reason, I’ve found that few people read beyond the first few thousand words of anything. When I was first asked to write for CMSWire, I was told that “around 600 words” was the optimal size for a post. So each month, as I sit down to write my article, I keep that number in mind—you know, as a multiplier for how many words I’ll actually write. (600 x 2, 600 x 3, etc.)

Picturepark is the first employer I’ve had who has permitted me to produce content that is not Sell! Sell! Sell! in nature. I think that shows under the Digital Asset Management menu our website. I think it also shows in our “Enterprise DAM Checklist” white paper, which easily passes Mr. Dodd’s test of credibility in that without the branding (and the last paragraph that mentions Picturepark as the publisher), there are no clues throughout the paper’s 45 pages about who wrote it or what it’s trying to sell. In fact, the paper is so software-neutral that any DAM vendor whose product is based on technologies that are standards-based, non-proprietary and less than a hundred years old could share the paper with its own prospects. (No, that is not a license to do so, you silly DAM vendors! Do your own work and stop copying off my paper!) 😉

I think the main problem we face as content providers and consumers is three fold:

  1. As I mentioned above, most people don’t read larger documents, which gives content producers an excuse to avoid writing them.
  2. Most content providers are marketroids who haven’t a clue what they’re talking about, but were taught last week in marketing school that “content is king.” So they write their “5 steps to becoming a better human” articles and white papers and pat themselves on the back when the leads come rolling in.
  3. And that leads to the big problem: It seems that for 99.9% of vendors, content’s main focus is to generate leads, not educate. They don’t care whether what they offer is valuable because once the download form has been submitted, they have what they want. Worse, their main audience is the GoogleBot, not the reader. So they stuff blog posts with keyword terms designed to get them ranking higher in search engine results placement (SERP). Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with legitimate SEO tactics—after all, there is a lot of noise on the Web. But when “SERP” and “lead-gen” are goals for content—content that should be designed to educate—you get numbers like 9% when you ask how many readers trust it.

I encourage you to read Mr. Dobb’s post and spend some time in his blog. There is some good stuff in there.

A year’s worth of bitching and moaning

It's not easy always being cranky about DAM, but somebody has to do it!

It’s not easy always being cranky about the state of Digital Asset Management, but somebody has to do it!

CMSWire recently published my 13th article with them, marking a year since I started as a regular monthly contributor for them. Given the cranky tone of most of what I’ve written for them, it honestly surprises me when they ask for more each month. (It doesn’t surprise me that I never run out of things to complain about, though. After all, that’s why Canto fired me.)

So, with a nod of thanks to CMSWire for offering me a pretty high-visibility place to repeatedly tell the DAM industry to get off my lawn, I offer this list of those articles.

And for the record, I don’t bitch just for the fun of it. I want this industry to survive, and I don’t feel like enough people are pushing it in that direction. In fact, I think too many people are pushing DAM toward extinction simply because they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, yet they keep on talking.

Kill the Infographic

Kill the infographic and let's start actually learning something.

Kill the infographic and let’s start actually learning something.

Do you ever think that we’ve begun to approach education like we do fast food? Decades ago, we turned to MacDonald’s and Burger King because it was too much work to cook for ourselves. And now it seems we turn to infographics and YouTube videos for technical education because it’s too much work to actually learn something for real. While fast food makes us fat and unhealthy, I predict our new educational habits will make us increasingly illiterate about technical topics.

If you don’t believe me, consider this: The people developing software today have had roughly 30 years to learn from the experience of others, to study the ways in which people work, and to perfect the craft of writing bug-free code that assembles into software that’s so well designed that it requires no documentation or technical support of any kind. Does the software you use today seem all that much better than the software you used 5, 10, 20 or 30 years ago? Sure, we have new features. But wouldn’t you have thought by now that all software would be easy to use, free of bugs, and—you know—helpful?

We change much more often than we improve. This suggests that we recognize we should be doing better, but that we have no idea how to do better. And that’s probably because we’ve already consumed to many infographic calories.

Please leave a comment and let us know how you learned everything you know about your field. Perhaps it was one of the following:

  • Watching YouTube videos
  • Downloading PowerPoint presentations
  • Retweeting links to infographics
  • Other

I wrote more about this recently on CMSWire. Please read “The De-Evolution of Tech Learning” and let me know what you think.