Elvis Release Swivle DAM Lite System

Dutch vendor, WoodWing have released Swivle which is a ‘DAM Lite’ solution to complement their more advanced Content DAM solution, Elvis.  I gather the name is some clever play on words using a reverse form of ‘Elvis’, unfortunately, this doesn’t translate entirely successfully (into colloquial UK English, at least).  In the part of the world where I spent my formative years, if you told someone to ‘Go Swivel’, you would have little to complain about if retribution in the form of physical violence was not swiftly administered, in response.  I don’t know if this is the case elsewhere, however and I will refrain from any further discussion of the name for the rest of the article.

There has been a reasonable amount of activity on the low-cost end of the Content DAM solution market recently, Spencer Harris reviewed Bynder’s Orbit last month for DAM News and ‘underwhelmed’ seems to be the emerging consensus about the current incarnation of that tool.  In addition to Orbit and Swivle, there are various others options on offer before it is necessary to resort to Dropbox, Box, Google Drive etc or the media management capabilities of a Web CMS.

Swivle has a 30 day trial and I signed up for that to test this out and see what it offers.  This is only a brief overview of what I have found and we may cover it in more depth in a follow-up piece.

Swivle has two user modes: Content Manager and Content Consumer.  The former corresponds to ‘administrator’ in a more fully-featured Content DAM.  The ‘consumer’ role is for searching, downloading etc and is what some refer to as a ‘read-only’ user.   There appears to be three major interface areas: the main upload and content management facility, a user administration tool and a ‘brand portal’.  The latter is what Content Consumer users interact with.

In the trial mode, some demo assets are included and it is possible to upload your own.  Apart from the limited duration, the trial isn’t crippled in terms of functionality.  The presentation of the UI is smart, modern and it works via a web browser.  I encountered some issues with a few of the interface conventions they have employed (a point I will return to later) but nothing seemed to break during my testing.  A more intensive examination would be required by anyone planning to use this, but I have come across quite a few DAM solutions that can fall over very quickly after you first login to them.  One of the reasons so many vendors use ‘canned demos’ (static screenshots delivered inside Powerpoint presentations) is because the salesperson doesn’t trust the software he or she is demonstrating to survive an hour or two of their own use, let alone allowing the end users loose on it, unaccompanied.  That isn’t the case here, but it does not mean there are no latent bugs that might emerge later with extended use.

The features included in Swivle seem quite well-developed and advanced for a DAM Lite product.  For example, it has InDesign integration and both reads and writes embedded metadata back to images.  The latter seems to still be an issue for a good number of DAM solutions (including some that claim to not be in the ‘Lite’ category).  Swivle does possess a lot of the other features necessary to support standard Digital Asset Management tasks, including, searching, permissions, checking in/out files, renditions in different formats, drag & drop uploads, folders and versioning (which is definitely a useful addition) plus sharing of assets with others who are not users.  I was quite surprised at the amount it did have and I would note that a few years ago, the price point for this kind of product would have been quite considerably higher.  This speaks to some wider Content DAM industry implications (especially with the ongoing  innovation drought in the wider market) but I have covered that subject quite a lot recently, so there is no need to go over it again here.

The metadata support is not extensive nor advanced compared with some more expensive systems and most of it seems to be folders, tags and editing predefined fields, however, these can be extended and it appears to be superior to several other products in the DAM Lite category.  Based on the use of names like ‘Brand Portal’ to describe the non-admin areas, this is targeted at marketing personnel who are usually a group of users who require a lot of persuasion to enter any metadata at all, so this might be satisfactory for them.  If you are not one of those kinds of users, however, you need to test the metadata capabilities quite carefully and ensure they will support your own use-case.  There does not appear to be any features like being able to batch-catalogue with delimited or XML files (or download metadata) however, again, I need to emphasise that this is a low-cost product and I appreciate that some compromises will have to be made.  One missing feature (at least I couldn’t find it) was some sort of rudimentary reporting and ability to view user activity.  I would expect to see at least an audit trail so the user could access the raw usage data and organise their own analysis if they needed to.

The main issues for me personally were some of the interface conventions.  These might well be due to Elvis’ heritage as a desktop app.  Quite a years ago (prior to their acquisition by WoodWing) my recollection was that Elvis used to be an Adobe AIR-based platform (which were essentially Flash apps delivered inside a desktop wrapper).  WoodWing moved away from that model towards a browser-based interface some time ago as Flash fell from favour, but some of these desktop conventions appear to be present in Swivle.  For example, clicking on the thumbnail of an asset merely selects it, you need to double-click to open the larger preview.  This isn’t a modus operandi I am used to much these days (although it might have been once).  Over 20+ years, I have mentally trained myself not to double-click links, objects etc when using web applications to avoid actions being repeated twice, but Swivle breaks that convention and I found it initially disconcerting (until I had got used to it).  There is an alternative method of accessing the larger preview but this involves multiple clicks, so isn’t ideal.  I think this mainly applies to the upload/management area, so it might be less of an issue in the read-only user brand portal.

The interface appears to be a ‘responsive’ design, which means it works on tablets, phones etc.  If you use your DAM on a desktop computer (or laptop) with a high-res display setting (as a lot of DAM users may do) then certain areas which are normally closely associated (e.g metadata panels) are quite a long way from the selected asset, which can feel a bit incongruous as the association between the two objects can become lost.  I don’t think there is a great deal they can do about this, it’s one of the trade-offs with mobile-friendly interfaces, but it’s an issue to consider.  These are arguably subjective points, however and what I believe is ‘conventional’ might not be a view someone else would share, so you need to try this out rather than taking my opinion at face-value.

Most recently released DAM systems (or those upgraded in the last five years or so) tend to be relatively easy to use, although quite a few have interface characteristics that can occasionally provoke extremely negative reactions from certain users – especially if they’re forced to put up with them numerous times each day.  I didn’t find that in my case, however, WoodWing should probably carry out some focus group testing with a wider cross-sections of users.  In particular, these should include those who are not already familiar with Elvis, but some other competitors or legacy product.  They are going to find conflicting reports from these studies, but I suspect a few common issues will emerge.  This is advice I would propose for all DAM vendors too; just because the UI looks clean and modern, don’t assume users will find it easy.

Swivle is cloud-based and looking at some of the URLs for previews, they are using Amazon AWS for hosting, which is generally fairly quick and is employed by many other Cloud-based DAM systems now.  Previews etc were generated fairly rapidly along with renditions in other formats.  The security in Swivle is tighter than other DAM Lite systems, which is good to see.  For example, in Bynder’s Orbit, the previews can be viewed without being logged in for about 24 hours after they have been rendered (when they do eventually expire and become inaccessible).  I repeated this test in Swivle and I couldn’t bypass the security – even for a brief ‘window’.  This is a somewhat minor point, but it suggests they have spent some time tightening everything up and not relying solely on the Amazon AWS defaults.  As with other points in this article, I need to make it clear that I did not carry out a comprehensive security test and this is just basic stuff I do with every web-based DAM I come into contact with.  If you have very sensitive material, my recommendation is not to host with a Cloud-based DAM and get some specialist expertise to advise you.

Swivle offer unlimited storage (for Creative Manager users who are the only ones who can upload) but with a maximum file size of 2GB (i.e. no one asset file can exceed 2GB, but you can have as many as you like).  I would want to check the fine-print with this offer, but the fact you don’t have to worry about quotas and exceeding capacity etc is quite an appealing attribute.

The pricing is $116 per month for a Creative Manager (administrator user) and $25 per month for Creative Consumer (read-only user).  For a small marketing team of about five people with one admin user, that works out at slightly over $240 per month (there are some discounts for annual plans which seem to be around 20% off).  This isn’t free, but it’s the sort of price point that might be attractive to those who operate a small team with a tight budget, which would include not only SME users but a fair number of B2B marketing departments where marketing spend tends to be quite a lot lower than their B2C counterparts.

The charges for Creative Consumer accounts are more of a tricky area.  In general, my experience is that read-only Content DAM users tend to be fairly infrequent users so the actual cost for the vendor to support this group is relatively low (usually around a tenth of the cost for the admins, sometimes less).  As such, I can see the profit motivation of charging $25 each for the user from WoodWing’s perspective, but if they offered some bundle deals (e.g. one admin + 20 read-only users) for a considerably reduced all-in fee, they get more a few more subscribers (for similar reasons to why they are offering unlimited storage, it’s just one less thing to worry about if you are an end-user).  Similarly, I would increase the trial duration.  My own anecdotal evidence suggests that longer trials of 90 days+ tend to get more sign-ups.  If the trial is too short, users don’t drop everything to get some testing in to make a decision about whether to go with a particular app or not, they just forget about the solution and just try something else out later where they can get another trial.  A longer trial period duration is (counter-intuitively) more likely to secure the vendor a sale.

Overall, Swivle doesn’t seem like a bad option for the price point.  The core elements are all included (plus some nice extras).  I’m not completely overjoyed about the interface conventions, but it’s not necessarily hard to use, just not what I personally am used to, other people’s mileage may vary etc.   I think this is a more realistic low-cost Content DAM system marketing model than a completely free DAM solution and noting some of the caveats with Bynder which Spencer has picked up on (and the ‘cliff edge’ pricing differentials when users need to upgrade storage or features etc) I tend to prefer the Swivle method for this as it’s just more honest, straightforward and better value for the money you probably will end up paying eventually anyway.  I don’t buy into the argument that Content DAM systems are ever likely to be computer systems that ‘you mom, pop and neighbour’ would use, they are still quite a niche category (and probably always will be).   There is less smoke and mirrors in the way WoodWing have approached the marketing and you don’t get the sense there might be some nasty surprises awaiting.  While it’s not perfect, if you’re in the market for a DAM Lite app, you should certainly kick Swivle’s tyres a few times and add it to your list of possible candidates.

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