The DAM Difference: Filename vs Metadata

This feature article has been contributed by Spencer J Harris.

We are all guilty of having files on our computers with a filename similar to img_3579 or DCS_8642. As a result, when you look at the names of your own files your initial reaction is “what is this a picture of?” You may have to use specialized software to open and view the file, but once you do, then you only have a general idea of the subject matter. However, depending on how long ago the file was created you may not remember the details associated with the file, such as who is in the photo or where was it was taken.

The common issue is that these unknown or forgotten details about your assets do not just plague personal computers and files, but are also common in the workplace. How many times have you received an email attachment where the filename is screenshot 2017.07.23 13:45:06, and you were in such a hurry, you merely saved the attachment to get on in your tasks. Then, days or weeks later you needed to go back and find that saved attachment, but because the filename has no real value to you, you end up wasting time trying to track it down, and in some scenarios, are never able to locate it.

The DAM Coin

Think of your asset as a coin: it has monetary value, and when its use is maximized, you can make it go a long way. That coin has two sides to it – a head and a tail. They co-exist and are related to each other. You cannot have one without other. The two sides to every asset are the filename and its metadata, and are what create the value for your asset. Without them, you will not be able to find or use your asset, and therefore it’s no longer an asset, but rather a bunch of ones and zeros taking up space on your server or hard drive.

The first thing to understand is that there is a difference between a filename and metadata. In some cases, you can argue that a filename is technically metadata, however, fundamentally they are different. They play different, but complementing roles in the DAM universe and treating them the way they should be will significantly improve your success in finding such assets.

The DAM Filename

The filename you give your assets should have a purpose. That purpose is to provide you or anyone who sees that asset with a high-level idea of the content contained therein. For example, a picture of a couple kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower should not be named, img_3478.jpg as that tells you nothing about the content contained in that asset.

If you go looking for that asset, whether you are manually navigating a folder structure or through some search utility, chances are you will not find it; at least not without time wasted. On the off-chance it does show up in your results, you will not know it unless you take the time to preview or open the asset and visually confirm it is what you are looking for.

There are a few critical components to a DAM good filename. The filename should provide enough high-level information that you do not need any unique program to view or tell you essential details. You should be able to look at a filename and have a general idea of what content is contained within the asset. Be careful not to use too much internal coding or terms, as it can be difficult for new employees or contracted staff to decipher the filename.

DATE – include a date that is associated with the asset, whether that be a creation date, a due date, or an in-market date. Dates help provide a contextual time for the asset. It is highly recommended to follow the YYMMDD format, especially when the folder holding your files has files from multiple years.

DESCRIPTION – include high-level details, without making your filename excessively long, but with enough detail to know what the subject matter is within the asset. The description may include features such as location, product name, model name, Layout, Concept, and so on.

DIFFERENTIAL DETAILS – sometimes you may have multiple versions or variations of the same asset (version is different from variation). These details are most common in photos or design layouts. As such, you need a way for the filename for each version or variation to be distinguishable, so adding details such as v2, r3, or color space can be the difference in quickly finding the exact asset. You can even put image dimensions at the end of the filename such as 1200px or 16×20 if that is the crucial difference.

If we use my earlier example of the couple kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower, a DAM strong filename that would replace the img_3478 will look something like:

(Possible name for the photograph)


(Possible name for a poster file)

You should NEVER use your filename to hold all your descriptive tags or keywords. That information belongs in the metadata. I have seen stock images that have their filenames loaded with dozens of descriptors, causing the filename to exceed well beyond 255 characters.

The DAM Metadata

As mentioned earlier, you cannot have one without the other. We cannot have a suitable filename and little or no metadata and expect our assets to be easily found. A proper filename is only one side of the DAM coin.

Over the years, I have seen the attempt by many of my peers in the industry to develop an accurate and appropriate definition for metadata. For my purposes of this article, I am going to stick to a straightforward explanation given by a colleague of mine, Ralph Windsor, and that is ‘metadata is the contextual details about your asset.’

Metadata is most commonly going to tell you details about your asset. These details can include the make and model of the camera used to create the photograph, the creative software used to create or edit the file, the date when an asset was created or last modified, a description of the asset, the usage rights associated with the asset, and a myriad of other details.

All of the details contained within the metadata can be set up as search filters within your DAM solution in order to find your assets quickly. When you have a very large number of assets in your library it can become challenging to quickly find what you are looking for. Many times, filenames are not the critical detail needed to find the appropriate assets, as you may be searching for a group of assets with common filenames but different metadata.

When you think about what metadata you should enrich your assets with it is essential to identify the information different users of your DAM will want to use when it comes to searching for assets. Not every department or user will want to search using the same information. Creative teams will want to search and filter by different criteria to product managers. Some users will want to use the DAM merely to take stock of what assets exist, or to evaluate the quality or accuracy of current assets.

If your team currently does not have use of a DAM, you do not need one to get started creating and applying meaningful filenames and metadata. Most of the time you can do this in the properties section of the software you use to create your assets. The key is not to wait to get started.

You may not necessarily see significant improvements in your asset findability right away. However, after implementing these changes for a few weeks, those weeks will turn into months, and those months will eventually turn into years, and before you know it, you have a large bank of DAM coins.

This feature article has been contributed by Spencer J Harris.

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