Digital Asset Management

New DAM White Papers Website

While too many other companies and organizations in the digital asset management industry continue to feed us DAM ROI infographics and other such nonsense, the DAM News team has once again built a resource that’s intended to actually help people. This time, it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet of DAM-related white papers, all available from a single (free) login.

Some white papers on the site are not free, but my guess is that most that are uploaded to the site in the future will be available at no charge. That said, the for-fee papers up there now were written by DAM News team members, so at least you know they’re coming from a source of integrity. (It’s no secret that I think the world of this team because of their knowledge and willingness to always call B.S. when it’s warranted.)

My hope is that after all the me-too DAM vendors start stinking up the place with their 200-word “educational” white papers, the DAM News team will start reviewing them all. Given the team’s sharp skills and even sharper tongues, I think we’re in for an even better (and much more entertaining) resource in the future.

Kudos to DAM News for yet another wonderful resource! 

For the record, DAM News builds these sites from scratch. There is significant development effort (and expense) that has gone into this site, the DAM Vendors Directory, the DAM Glossary and DAM Projects. These are much more than just domain registrations.


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.)

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

Splice Vine Video Editing Blog Interview

Splice Vine just published an interview they conducted with me last week. It was nice to learn that the video community takes DAM so seriously!

It was a pleasure to work with them on this, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity!

Taxonomy vs. Controlled Vocabulary

With the recent announcement of “DAM and the Tao of Taxonomy,” which is the next webinar I’ll be hosting, I’ve been getting questions about my take on the differences between taxonomies and controlled vocabularies. I’ll offer below the most basic distinction I can muster, but for much more detailed information from a true authority on this subject, please join me for “DAM and the Tao of Taxonomy” on August 29, 2012. My guest will be David Riecks of David has won a US Library of Congress “Pioneer of Digital Preservation” award and he’s also a judge for Createasphere’s annual DAMMY Awards.

I’ve been impressed by David’s knowledge and DAM common sense since the first time I spoke with him years ago. There’s no way you won’t come away from this webinar without learning. We love David.

Okay, let me put Taxonomy vs. Controlled Vocabulary in simple terms: When I think of taxonomy, I think of structure, organization and hierarchical “place.” In other words, if my digital asset was a physical object, my “taxonomy” would describe where I might store that object. Example:

  • Home
    • Kitchen
      • Pantry
      • Junk drawer (we all have one, right?)
      • Refrigerator
    • Bedroom
      • Closet
      • Under the bed
      • Secret location that’s none of your business and you’ll never find it
  • Work
    • My office
      • File cabinet
      • Bookshelf
    • Conference room
      • Storage cabinet
      • Center of the big shiny table

The taxonomy of my life’s structure would help me decide where the object belongs. For example, there is no entry in the hierarchy for “Airplane,” and that’s because DAM Survival Guide needs to sell a few more copies before that will be added.

Keep in mind that in the digital world, an “object” can fit in many different locations, so we assign it everywhere it fits. The point to our chosen taxonomy is that there is a pre-defined structure that we use consistently across our organizations or industries. After all, one person’s “secret location that’s none of your business and you’ll never find it,” might be another person’s “place I should have hid better from the kids.”

By this time you might have correctly guessed that my “controlled vocabulary” is the list of keywords I use to describe the objects of my life. (Taxonomy is where they go; keywords are what they are.) A “controlled vocabulary” is just some technological way of limiting your keyword choices to only those previously approved for use. This way, your metadata editors and users don’t have to guess whether you were thinking of an “airplane,” “aircraft,” “jet” or “big flying thing.”

When used together, taxonomies and controlled vocabularies enable you to design a killer, well-organized DAM that will be so much easier to use and maintain.

Keep in mind, this is how I see the differences. Others use taxonomy structure no differently than they do keywords.

Join David and me for the “DAM and the Tao of Taxonomy” webinar and find how why my explanation above only scratches the surface of possibilities for these methodologies and technologies.