Ian Matzen, writing on his Tame Your Assets blog. has written an introductory article to Facet Analysis, which is the process of de-constructing metadata subject domains into discrete elements (facets) so they can be re-assembled in a modular fashion to provide faceted search features for DAM systems and other content repositories:
“To hear some DAM professionals talk about it, faceted search is the best thing since buttered toast. With good reason too. In a faceted classification structure objects can ‘exist’ in several different locations versus being forced into a single node as in a hierarchical structure. Documents become easier to find in a faceted taxonomy because they are indexed exhaustively, allowing users to search results according to a range of qualities. In effect, faceted organizational structures flatten complex taxonomies allowing collections of digital assets to be browsed.” [Read More]
Ian provides some examples and describes the historical background and academic theory underpinning Facet Analysis as well as guidelines for doing your own. The article is a good introduction to this subject and provides some useful leads for further study also.
When working with clients who have an existing DAM system, I have found that many depended entirely on the vendor for advice about how to design metadata schemas and what information science tools are most suitable to present metadata selection interfaces to users. If you do that, you will tend to get responses which are skewed towards whatever features they support, rather than the ones that are best for the repository in question. You run the risk, therefore, of encountering problems later on as the number of assets contained in your DAM solution increases.
The clients I work with that seem to have the most scalable and successful metadata schemas are those that have considered them at an early stage – well before they started seriously looking at DAM software products. Doing the metadata analysis up-front informs their procurement process since they are better able to ask vendors to explain how to fit their ideas about metadata schemas with the features of their application, rather than general feature box-ticking exercises. If the vendor sales personnel are experienced in this field and their firm has a good solution, they will partly act in a consultative capacity and help you refine your ideas and advise if any of your preferences could have negative consequences (as well as choosing some alternatives which will avoid them).
I read comments from some in DAM (and across the board – not just vendors) who advocate a kind of ‘wait and see’ approach to metadata schemas where you just start assembling the system and concentrate on some other element like storage, asset processing or design/branding then allow the metadata to fall in behind. This is not a tactic I would recommend. If you are going to DAM properly, you need to understand the basics of metadata and have an idea about some of the principles and common themes. When you learn to drive a car, even though you don’t need to know how to put an engine together yourself, you are obliged by the mechanical constraints of the vehicle to have some understanding of what it’s doing and the effects of your actions, otherwise, you don’t get far without stalling the engine or crashing. The same is true of DAM solutions, if you do not have a metadata strategy worked out first, expect to run into problems and don’t count on your vendor necessarily being able to get you out of them (certainly without incurring unplanned costs).
It is true that it is not necessary to have absolutely everything figured out and defined in a complex specification up-front. Also, your strategy is going to have to be partly informed by real-world use and feedback from your colleagues, but without question, those clients I work with that have clearer thoughts about how they want searching and cataloguing interfaces to operate, tend to get better results than those that have done little or no prior research. On that basis, if you are thinking about starting a DAM initiative, even if you plan to call in some external help from a consultant or analyst, it is still well worth doing some prior reading up on the fundamental aspects of metadata and articles like Ian’s one are one of many great examples of resources now freely and widely available to help you do just that.
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