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Trust In Short Supply On Digital Asset Management Software Review Sites

by Ralph Windsor on February 8, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, a representative from a DAM vendor contacted me about a DAM software review site that had requested a trial edition of their solution.  They were somewhat suspicious about the motives of the operators and shared their concerns with me.  The site appears to be French in origin.  One application which receives a glowing write-up that puts it well ahead of all the others is developed by a firm who are also French.  The vendor who emailed me originally pointed out that the whois data for the domain name reveals that both the review site and the company who develop the DAM system which get the highest rating were, in fact, the same firm (quelle surprise).  I must make it clear that none of the French vendors listed on our directory are involved with any of this.

As well as this example, I have heard reports about other DAM system review sites where the operators (while less obviously biased) are sometimes partial to weighting the prominence afforded to certain products over and above the others.  It is not unreasonable for industry sites to include commercial advertising (we do to a limited extent on DAM News, as does CMSWire and various other similar publications) but there needs to be a clear line drawn between editorial copy and advertising.

User-supplied reviews also provide an opportunity for the unscrupulous to gain an edge over their more honest competitors.  For smaller items like books, films or consumer electronics where relatively modest sums are involved, this might not be too significant.  For a big ticket purchase like DAM software, however, placing any real trust in the reliability of them could be a perilous undertaking.  Just because there are positive reviews for some products (and highly negative ones for others) does not mean they are all rigged, but distinguishing the real from the bogus might not always be straightforward.

Essentially, it is the model employed by these sites which is most deserving of criticism, rather than their attempts to apply it to DAM software.  I don’t think it is feasible to reduce DAM applications to an n out of five star rating (as many of these sites seem to) since there are just too many different variables.  What is a selling point for one organisation is the complete opposite for another.  As we announced recently, we are currently in the process of setting up a DAM News software pricing survey and based on the responses from a small sample of vendors who have agreed to review the proposed questions, there is a lot of diversity in terms of the implementation styles and delivery methods used by different providers (to the extent that the questions have needed to be revised several times).  Anyone who has had to prepare RFPs for DAM solutions will be aware that they are complex documents to author because although there are a number of common factors to most DAM solutions, vendors each address them differently and in ways that can substantially influence the final cost and ultimate value obtained.

To properly investigate most DAM solutions takes a lot of time and effort.  I would assess that one day of solid work per product is probably only just about sufficient for many solutions (with a longer period required to give the task the attention it really deserves).  Given the business models employed by many of these sites, I do not believe they can economically carry out the exercise in sufficient depth to write a satisfactory review (I notice that most also cover hundreds of different software markets, which must be to compensate for this limitation).  As a way to gather a list of possible options they may offer some potential, but don’t expect to get anything useful out of them in terms of credible product feedback and opinions as to the suitability of them for your own individual Digital Asset Management requirements.

Apart from the trust issues with some on-line sources, an opposite (but related) problem is a lack of willingness by users to share feedback in a format that is open and will persist for an indefinite period (e.g an on-line forum).  This subject was discussed last year on one of the LinkedIn DAM groups; many end users will still have to liaise with the firm who supplied the product for support etc and deal with the fall-out from any negative remarks.  I have seen a few instances where unfavourable comments about a product emerge, but only several years after the supplier has left the scene and are not involved with the organisation any longer.  An additional problem with that kind of feedback is that the vendor in question might have since become aware of the issues and fixed them in the intervening period.

Although there are various other more in-depth sources of information about DAM solutions such as analyst reports or hiring consultants to review the options for you, one low-cost and simple approach is to go and meet with some actual users of the product you are interested in and talk to them, live (i.e in the flesh) where it is a little easier for users of a product to be a little more open about their experience with it.  There are a few Meet Up groups dedicated to DAM and trade shows do have the benefit of providing a focal point for larger gatherings that will include some users (although a cost is usually involved).  I have discussed this issue with a few other people in DAM and as yet, I can’t see any practical alternative to the methods described, although I do remain open to listening to any proposed ideas.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

David Diamond February 9, 2016 at 4:45 pm

Picturepark, like I’m sure all other DAM vendors, has been courted by these peer review websites to not only advertise, but to hound our customers to provide reviews of our software. They have even gone so far as to offer to campaign our own customers for us! Are vendors really stupid enough to turn over customer lists to these sites?

Yet, you see vendors cooperating with these sites all the time. Overnight, some 15 new reviews will come in for some random DAM system. Coincidence? And I know of at least one US Cloud DAM vendor who advertised on its website that it would offer Amazon gift cards to customers who left reviews. (You know who you are.) These practices are disgusting. Vendors who are participating should be ashamed of themselves and customers who are being compensated for their review “services” should feel like exactly what they have become.

The notion of true peer review is a resource that we, as consumers of anything, should cherish. If we can’t trust one another to provide trustworthy information, what then? As Ralph mentions in this article, mistakes are costly when it comes to buying enterprise software. You know vendor websites will be biased, and you know that some analyst firms are (clearly) biased. This leaves professionals to be able to help one another. So when I see this pollution, it sickens me.

Here’s what I would like to see considered required information when peer reviews are presented:

* Did anyone ask you to provide this review?
* Were you at all compensated for your review?

And for analyst reports, I’d like to see:

* Which of the companies in this report were a source of revenue for your firm in the past 12 months?
* Which of the companies in this report have employees or representatives who have had in-person social or business meetings with employees or representatives of your firm in the past 12 months?

I think with just these few items addressed, we’d start to see the true driving forces behind this nonsense content. (Assuming the answers given are honest.)

In my opinion, there is one last “peer review” site that can be trusted: DAM Guru Program (http://damguru.com). Members contact one another privately, away from vendor eyes, where they are free to say anything they want. Member match services are free, so there’s nothing stopping anyone from finding as many opinions as they want. Yes, Picturepark created DAM Guru Program–everyone knows that by now. But I also hope that everyone knows that it is not used in any manner for Picturepark marketing or sales. If it were, it would have been torn apart by its 800+ members long ago.

Good software should not be obscured by loud marketing. Yet, in this industry, there is so much loud marketing about how wonderful DAM software products are, that one might look at the horribly low industry-average customer satisfaction ratings and wonder what’s up.

If your DAM vendor participates in these practices, ask them why they think this is ethical. “Our software is so great that we want everyone to know!” isn’t a valid response.

The DAM industry needs a giant dose of integrity.

David Diamond
Director of Global Marketing
Picturepark DAM

Tim Strehle February 10, 2016 at 7:33 am

I’m sure both prospective DAM customers and the DAM market would benefit from good, unbiased, free, comparative DAM software reviews (possibly with more detailed “premium” information for pay).

Ralph, thanks for listing the reasons why this is unlikely to happen: Vendors will shy away from providing demo accounts for fear of negative publicity, reviews mean tons of work that cannot be properly compensated, and keeping up with new software releases is hard to impossible.

The idealist in me still hopes we can get there somehow :)

Here’s a challenge to all DAM vendors (including the one I work for): Would you be willing to let someone do a public review of your software? (I suggest the reviewer lets you opt out before publishing the review if you feel it is unfair.) And who would you trust with that? – If we get to a critical mass of vendors willing to participate, we can try figuring out the next step.

Alternative challenge: Vendors, please publish ten demo screencast videos showing how your product masters the “DAM Foundation 10 characteristics scenarios” outlined here:
http://damfoundation.org/2015/01/12/10-core-characteristics-listing-of-qualified-dam-vendors/
That’ll help prospective customers compare your approach to other products’.
Who’s in?

See my blog post “DAM, a market with no reviews or critics” from 2014:
http://www.strehle.de/tim/weblog/archives/2014/08/03/1734

Tim Strehle
DAM software developer at Digital Collections

Michael Wells February 10, 2016 at 2:46 pm

Thank you, Ralph, for exposing the issues. What a breath of fresh air! All is not well with DAM marketing ‘tactics’ and it’s only the buyers who are picking up the costs.

I work with our customers closely, and I can promise you that “5-star” reviews don’t just pile up by chance. Even when you have a lot of positive sentiment and feedback to call on, reviews don’t materialise by chance. With that in mind, I do wonder how some vendors are accumulating such a mountain of praise. Additionally, I think that there isn’t any evidence of a normal distribution in the reviews.

Professional networking is certainly way more dependable. The “best” buyers always ask us for personal referrals to speak to existing clients. It keeps us on our toes, as that means we’re constantly asking favours (which is not something you can do if you have no real working relationship with your clients). These sales are generally the ones that end well, and last for years, though.

David, your comments are just spot on. I must say that the Dam Gurus concept (and the honest way it’s managed) is a source of promise. The trust relationship between vendors and prospective DAM customers is not going to improve without more sites like yours, less bias, and fewer of the sort of distractions that Ralph’s called out.

Michael Wells
Managing Director, Third Light

Kim Phillips February 12, 2016 at 10:29 pm

I’ve been working in the DAM industry for about 8 years now. It was overwhelming trying to find reviews for the various vendors that were trying to court the company. I found one pretty trustworthy source but with a very hefty price tag for the report. Thankfully my company saw the worth in the review.
On a side note, it also helped me eliminate a vendor that was clearly trying to woo the less seasoned DAM buyer. When I asked the vendor if they had participated in a particular review (while I had the vendor list on screen in front of me) they said no. To see them squirm, I did point out that they were on the list. Needless to say how could a prospective client even take them seriously when out of the gate they clearly had no clue about research involving their company?
Buying anything is risky but when you’re buying for a large company it pays off to do your homework and sometimes you have to pay a little extra for information but it is well worth it. There are also some great books on the market now that weren’t as readily available when I started looking at DAM (probably because I didn’t know where to look)

Jim Jezioranski February 18, 2016 at 8:22 pm

The holy grail – the independent review! I can’t see how this could ever exist and even if it did, what it would be worth to me if I were searching for a DAM system. While DAM requirements are not always as unique as some think, there are certain requirements which can rule out fairly large segments of the DAM vendorscape.

That aside, most independant studies studies, even ones you pay for, aren’t. They are either funded by someone who has a stake in its outcome, like most whitepapers or they are based on information that comes from other sources which are biased. Or, they are very limited in scope. Think of the time and resources it would take to do a valid comparative study of the 200+ DAM vendors out there, not to mention the raft of other pseudo vendors and CMS that claim many functional aspects of DAM.

Idealism is great but realism wins the day. Yes, prospects wishing to purchase a DAM system have the same challenges we all do when buying big ticket items: buyer beware. The auto industry is far more mature with more transparent defect reporting etc and it is still hard to decide what is the best car to buy. Even then, their marketing is still one of the main reason we settle on a ,articular model. Certainly the more sources of information you can consider the better off you are. At least today, the contender are far more likely to be decent than they were 10-15 years ago.

Good points were made by all. Multiple sources are a must. I agree most that checking vendor references, especially those similar in profile to you, will eliminate the most serious concerns.

Deb Fanslow February 22, 2016 at 2:52 am

Wonderful discussion…Tim, I love your idea of having vendors demonstrate the 10 Core! As so many systems claim similar functionality, it would be valuable to see just how these functionalities are implemented within each system.

Annella Mendoza February 22, 2016 at 6:20 pm

Ditto on all points raised in this on-going discussion. I still go by the maxim that no 2 organizations are exactly alike and a multiple-source approach should be used by a would-be DAM client. I am especially for applying the 10-core characteristics and going directly to customers who may closely resemble your needs to find out their experience – even better face-to-face, onsite, seeing their DAM system in action.

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