Monday, May 28, 2012

Digital Asset Management and Taxonomies

Earlier this month I attended a conference on digital asset management (DAM) for the first time: Henry Stewart DAM in New York, May 10-11. It revealed to me that the field of digital asset management is definitely an area where taxonomies are being applied and could be more even extensively utilized.

“Digital assets” refers to digitized content generally of images, video, and sound recordings, but could also be copyright text of publishers. As one speaker mentioned, digital assets are the intellectual property of certain enterprises, and hence the designation “assets.” The typical industries concerned with DAM are publishers, broadcasters, advertising (creative) agencies, and other media companies, which manage vast collections of media files. Additionally, large enterprises in any industry whose corporate communications departments manage sizeable collections of image or multimedia files are also concerned with DAM. The New York venue of this conference drew heavily on representatives of local media and advertising industries, but the annual fall venue of the same conference in Chicago, I am told, has a more diversified participation. The field is additionally defined and driven by vendors, digital asset management software products.

DAM is also a growing field. The 2012 Henry Stewart DAM conference in New York, its ninth year, drew an attendance of approximately 500, up from 400 the previous year. Last year, a new professional association was founded, the Digital Asset Management Foundation. A new quarterly journal from Henry Stewart Publications, Journal of Digital Media Management, just published its first issue this month. Also this month, the DAM Foundation and independent analyst firm, The Real Story Group, released a DAM Maturity Model, which provides a structured framework to address DAM implementation challenges.

As to where taxonomies fit into DAM, it’s not difficult to see. Digital assets tend to be structured content with various metadata fields (subject, purpose, format, location, copyright), which DAM software supports. Taxonomies (or more correctly, any controlled vocabularies) enable the consistent application of descriptive metadata. DAM software supports the inclusion of controlled vocabularies, but the tools to and especially the know-how to build the best controlled vocabularies/taxonomies is often lacking. Meanwhile, standard text search does not work on the non-text content that is typical of digital assets, so tagging and controlled vocabularies are all the more important.

DAM experts and consultants are not necessarily experts in taxonomies, and taxonomy experts may not be familiar with DAMs, so there is some learning for all of us. DAM systems, like other content management systems, often need to be configured, integrated, and customized for a specific enterprise’s use, with expertise and time spent first on system integration, pushing taxonomy design out to perhaps only an afterthought.

Taxonomies have various applications. I have been involved in taxonomies that tend to be either: (1) external facing, to allow customers or clients to search for content published by an organization, whether for research or for e-commerce, and (2) internal, as an enterprise or business taxonomy, to allow employees to find content within an intranet or enterprise content management system. A digital asset management system can manage content for either internal or external users, or often both at once. As such, designing DAM taxonomies often needs to take into consideration more varied users of the content.  This is certainly an exciting growth area for taxonomies, and I hope to be more involved in DAM taxonomy projects in the future.