Tim's Weblog
Tim Strehle’s links and thoughts on Web apps, software development and Digital Asset Management, since 2002.

It’s content, not just DAM metadata

In my previous post Web of information vs DAM, DM, CM, KM silos, I asked: “When a photographer’s phone number changes, will you update it in your DAM system? How many places will you have to update it in the DAM – is it stored in a single place, or has it been copied into each photo?”

DAM systems have traditionally focused on files and their metadata. With the metadata only existing in the context of the asset, not as standalone data in its own right. I’ve long been convinced that this is wrong, so it makes me very happy to see a trend in the right direction. A few quotes:

David Diamond – A DAM is no place for an “image”: “With content-focused DAM, you think in terms of, for example, of the words in yesterday’s press release. You don’t think in terms of the press release’s Word and PDF files as being separate entities. They are merely disposable containers for the content. And it is the content that needs metadata, not the files. It is the content that has a lifecycle, not the files. One of the many advantages of the Adaptive Metadata technology that Picturepark developed […], is that metadata can be abstracted from the assets themselves. This means, for example, the metadata can exist entirely on the asset class definition. Those assets assigned to the class inherit the metadata while they remain assigned.”

Louis King in a comment on the LinkedIn DAM group discussion on Why Images Don’t Belong In Your DAM (requires registration): “Each of these chunks of metadata represent investments that provide value to the asset. By separating them into individual but related assets DAM users are not burdened by the complexity of the whole but are focused only on the metadata that is returning value to their role. Very few DAMS do this but trends in metadata are moving rapidly in this direction. Take a look at Open Linked Data to see how that might play out in emerging DAM.”

Ralph Windsor – Digital Asset Management And The Politics Of Metadata Integration: “There are many other [applications] and you could include any system where the key entity is not an asset […]. In these scenarios, the external entity which contains the data of interest has an adjacent or perpendicular relationship with a digital asset. In other words, it is not above or below it in terms of the metadata schema hierarchy and needs to be treated independently (i.e. linked by association rather than part of the same record). […] The staff HR record and the employee photo are independent of each other and different users have to work on them separately from each other to fulfil independent business functions.”

I also like how Rory Brown quotes Douglas McCabe on Twitter: “Content has to be atomised because no one knows what the 4th wave of disruption will be (after desktop, phone, tablet)”

For a nice real-world example, see the BBC News Labs presentation on Storylines, Topics & Tags. Their News Archive doesn’t just store “article” and “image” assets, but also contains a database of people (with properties like “birth place”, “birth date”, “role”), organizations, places, events, themes (“unemployment”), and storylines (“the death of Nelson Mandela”). Each of which can be linked to the assets.

Once we agree on the need for standalone data in the DAM (or linked to the DAM) – asset-independent databases or knowledge bases – the next questions are how to model it, and how to ensure a good user experience. I think Topic Maps are perfect for modeling arbitrary, flexibly structured data. How are you doing it?

And what DAM systems do already have this functionality? I know of Picturepark with its Adaptive Metadata, ImageSnippets and our own DC-X with its Topic Maps engine. Any others?

Update: See also Eric Barroca’s (of Nuxeo) Deep Content: A Fresh Take on Content Modeling: “Deep content is about reversing that, putting (meta)data first, then crafting your content model based on your business domain.”

Update: I’m giving an example – newspaper articles about crime cases – in DAM Champ: Tim Strehle, Part 2.

Update: Demian Hess on Capturing DAM Relationships: “Because these systems pull together information from across the enterprise, they can support operations as varied as DAM, PIM, CRM, MRM and CMS. These systems provide "asset intelligence," with the understanding that anything can be an asset: an image, a piece of content, a character, a product, a contract or a user.”

Update (2016-11-17): In the Semantic / Graph DataBases and the evolution of Digital Asset Management webinar recording, Wendy Skoulding, Rich Carroll and Bill Covington explain how graph databases enable rich, flexible and highly related information modeling – and demo these features in Censhare.

Update (2017-03-31): In a preview of the Picturepark Content Platform [PDF]: “Build multi-node metadata and content relationship models that not only describe content, but provide semantic meaning and context, and ultimately improve the findability of specific content and the exploration of related content.”

Update (2017-04-05): Laurence Hart in Information Governance, Moving on from Content: “Information First: Here’s the deal. Content never stands alone. Yes it has metadata but there are entities that need to be managed that may not have content.”

Update (2017-04-11): censhare partner IO Integration – How a Semantic Network Makes the Unattainable Attainable: “Most digital systems require you to ingest your assets, which need to be some sort of digital file. A semantic network allows you to include simply metadata, which then relates to every relatable asset within the system. The difference is that anything can be an asset. A person and their project are both assets, meaning the project, the assets related to it and the person who needs them most are all related.”

Update (2017-04-18): I think your company needs its own Knowledge Graph.

Update (2018-04-04): Back in 2010, Stijn Debrouwere wrote the excellent article We're in the information business: “A domain model is a representation of your newsroom and the world that you cover. […] An issue is more than just a number: it has a date of publication, a cover image, a chief editor, it might revolve around a special theme, it has a circulation, it has one or more cover stories. Don’t think too soon that something is just a number or merely a line of text.”

Also, see the Google Knowledge Graph motto things, not strings.

Update (2018-05-13): Magan Arthur – The End of Digital Content Management and the Need for Business Object Management: “The key breakdown I have consistently observed in my 18 years of engagement with content management in complex environments is that the content management systems and the business process and business object management systems are simply not providing the seamless data and content exchange needed. To make that happen, content management systems need to become much more business object aware or business object management systems need to become much better at managing digital content. […] What I mean with business object awareness is, for example, the ability to map for the product record in your content management system as a corresponding object to your PIM systems. By adding a Product Object in DAM the product content can now be organized in visually very intuitive ways.”

Update (2019-03-11): Jeanette Shermann (Nuxeo) – Adapting Digital Asset Management to Your Business: Why You Can’t KonMari Your Content Supply Chain: “In a traditional, “file cabinet” structure restricted by legacy organizational principles, representing multiple products’ data in a single image just isn’t possible. Perhaps the same image could be duplicated and “filed” under each individual product, but this creates problems when assets are updated or metadata is modified. A modern DAM system sees each of your assets in the full, complex context of your business. Now, Simon’s image is connected to a “model” object that can help talent management organize and visualize this information by talent record. Each product in the photo is also seen as a “product” object connected to the product information management (PIM) system, allowing changes in the PIM to be immediately reflected across all assets containing products with modified data.”

Picturepark – Semantic Relationships: “An important enabler for Semantic Relationships in Picturepark are Multidimensional Lists. For each item in such list, attributes can be defined that further describe the item, or that are used to connect the item along a specific relationship to other list items. These items can again be related to items from other lists, and so forth, building highly interconnected neural networks of information.”

If your DAM system is not as powerful as Nuxeo or Picturepark, try Linked Content: 8 steps toward content system interoperability.

See also the video Applying Graphs to Enterprise Media Asset Management — C. Goodacre and B. Boehmann, Scripps Networks.