Edward Smith, of Extensis has written an article for CMSWire.com entitled: Who Should Enter Metadata in Digital Asset Management?
“Metadata is important because it helps you and other DAM users find the right files (keywords), understand the content of the files you find (descriptions) and use those files correctly (rights management). That sounds great and all, but who is going to enter all that metadata? The short answer is: hopefully someone else! If you can use metadata that somebody (or something) else provides, you can save some time and headache.” [Read More]
Edward lists various other alternatives to doing it yourself:
- Use data from the file system (creation/modification date etc)
- The DAM system you use itself
- Asset suppliers (e.g. photographers you have hired)
- Device metadata (for example EXIF data)
- Delegating it to your staff (or ‘colleagues’ as Edward tactfully puts it)
- Applications like Photoshop and Lightroom
The article isn’t bad, but I do think this is skirting round the big issue with DAM systems which no one has really solved yet, which is the whole ‘Garbage In – Garbage Out’ dilemma of DAM. In order for people to want to use a DAM system, they need to be able to find assets within it. In your typical corporate DAM, no one wants to do the cataloguing work because it is often painfully dull, gets in the way of other (arguably more important) tasks and the whole reason many users invest into DAMs is to have the system do a lot of this work for them.
It is true that some of the basics can be useful (especially creation dates and MIME types/file extensions). However, a lot of the machine oriented methods described just don’t cut it (in my opinion) and are potentially risky if not checked carefully (which reduces their benefit and increases the cost). While it might be ‘free’ metadata, most EXIF data ends up being noise that interferes with search results, for example, how often are your users really likely to want know what camera model or the exposure time was for an image? For photographers this might be useful, but for more conventional users it may be less so. I would concede that some geo-location metadata might have potential value, but this needs to be closely integrated into the DAM and not presented as something abstract like a set of coordinates.
Even with more subject-oriented metadata like XMP, I’ve found some hair-raising scenarios. For example, one client I worked with had got their agency to supply Illustrator files of their pack shots. The XMP data contained Illustrator layer information from a competitor product that the agency worked on (without the client being aware of that fact) and the designer had used the original files without removing some of the invisible layers. The competitor product name appeared in metadata right next to their own. Fortunately, this was all internal stuff and you could argue that the XMP data and the DAM system had revealed that fact which might not have been known about anyway, but there are easier ways to glean this sort of supplier intelligence and it’s certainly not one you want reported as a software ‘bug’ by end users.
Delegating asset cataloguing to staff can produce some peculiar results also. With the corporate clients I have worked with, the most common problem is that the staff will either over-use the batch automation capabilities of the software, so the same description and keywords will be applied completely inappropriately to assets that don’t resemble the description at all. The other issue is a training one where staff will tag using keywords that describe what something is in specialist terms (e.g. product/service names) but have no literal indicators of what the asset is (this is an issue for images especially).
To do DAM metadata entry right, some of the free/externalised methods can help reduce the work a bit, but it’s slightly disingenuous of Edward to claim you can fully push this on to other people. That’s not entirely surprising as he works for a DAM vendor and this ‘elephant in the room’ about buying into DAM is one that vendors (both good and the bad) don’t like to talk about as it can put people off making a purchasing decision if they know that as well as buying the product and dealing with the roll-out, they’re also likely to pick up a whole pile of unexpected cataloguing work also.
To do metadata entry properly requires a combination of both a literal description of what an asset is (i.e. what you can see) and any business/subject specific terminology. This implies either one person with subject knowledge and picture research skills (e.g. a ‘digital asset manager’) or if that isn’t available, a two-pass approach where the assets are catalogued by staff first and then worked on by expert keyworders who understand about cataloguing assets in a way that allows end users to be able to find them also.
The suggestion that this can be de-humanised and automated using ‘free’ metadata that systems will magic up for you is, in my view, total nonsense. If you want to get decent ROI from your digital assets, factor in some costs for someone to catalogue the material properly (whether in-house or externally). If you do not, your DAM initiative risks becoming just a waste of time and money as no one will be able to find anything, which is probably the key reason you thought about getting one to begin with.
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