File-Sharing Versus DAM: A Narrowing Of Widen’s Vision?

Nora Gehin, from Digital Asset Management vendor Widen has recently published an article pitting file-sharing platforms such as Dropbox and Google Drive against dedicated DAM systems.  It’s an argument that – aside from being overcooked – consistently manages to over-simplify the comparison and fails to identify the core underlying differences between the two platforms.

Firstly, I can forgive Nora for choosing the soup du jour as her subject matter, but I’m somewhat underwhelmed by its flavour.  Let’s take a look at the distinctions that are made.

First thing’s first, let’s get some basic definitions down.

Both file-sharing and most DAM systems are cloud-based and allow you to store and share digital assets.” [Read More]

First up, a digital asset is not the same as a digital file: an image file with no EXIF or metadata is simply that – a file.  The definition of a digital asset has been deliberated over at great length, and my DAM News co-contributor, Ralph Windsor has written numerous articles in an attempt to pin it down and clarify it.  His recent article ‘Defining Digital Assets’ over at Digital Asset News is a worthwhile read for those seeking a decent entrée.

Secondly, for many DAM users, an on-premise solution represents a greater degree of security and stability than a cloud-based service.  Running services on a LAN can minimise unexpected downtime and loss of data due to connectivity, upgrades and issues beyond their control – something worth considering when relying on file-sharing services.

Nora goes on to define a few typical scenarios that might warrant a shift to a dedicated DAM system.

1. Your digital assets live in email and local drives.

Again, this article makes the assumption that all files are digital assets.  This isn’t strictly true; to become an asset, a file ideally needs to be useful and have some kind of intrinsic or extrinsic value (e.g. an image or video file’s intrinsic value is the binary data, whereas its extrinsic value might be its ‘findability’ or the attention and ROI it provides when used in a product or marketing campaign).

Nora continues:

…as your asset volume grows and your team of collaborators and users expands beyond a few people, a file-sharing solution can quickly become cumbersome and messy. A DAM system, on the other hand, can handle large volumes and complex workflows.” [Read More]

Okay, there might be some truth to this, but as the old adage goes “verb is as verb does”, to wit, I’ve seen as many disorganised DAM systems as I’ve seen well organised file-sharing set-ups.  As always, context, categorisation and metadata are fundamental here.  Google Drive natively supports over 40 types of file, metadata, versioning, change tracking, permissions and collaboration – most of which you’d expect to find in any DAM system.  Box supports workflows, timelines, project management and granular permissions.  Scalability in most online file-sharing platforms is also no longer an issue (Google Drive’s premium plans start at 100GB and extend to 30 TB while others offer unlimited storage).

I’m not wilfully attempting to blur the line between the two platforms, yet the truth is, the differences between the two are now considerably less than they were several years ago.

2. You use a file-sharing solution, but it is a black hole.

If you use a file-sharing system but it’s impossible to find what you need, you’ve likely outgrown it. Of course, you can always buy more space and spearhead a cleanup initiative, but this will not improve long-term searchability. File-sharing solutions are folder-based. So, you need to either remember which folders you put your digital assets in and drill through the hierarchy or search by folder or file name. If you’re like most organizations, it will be difficult to find any digital assets with wonky names, such as IMG135.jpg.” [Read More]

This incorrectly assumes that:

  • All file-sharing solutions can’t use metadata
  • Folder-based file-sharing solutions are inherently disorganised
  • DAM systems can compensate for a bad memory or user incompetence
  • Badly named files are hard to locate

Whereas, in reality:

  • Many file-sharing systems support metadata
  • File-sharing folders can work almost as effectively as DAM categories
  • Although AI in a DAM context is on the rise, it’s still not as useful as you might think and achieving good searchability via tags and metadata is still the best method
  • Any badly named file can be easily located if you put it in the right place and ensure its description and metadata are concise, relevant and intact

It’s no miracle that a shelf-stacker can tell you that the pesto sauce is on the shelf above the linguini, next to the tomato puree.  It’s their job.  Any member of staff involved in managing and curating digital assets has a responsibility to do it properly, by the book, and with a mindfulness towards other users’ needs.

The article continues to highlight a number of features that differentiate a file-sharing platform from a DAM system, such as faceted search, tagging and collections.  This may have once been the case, but many file-sharing apps now include these features, for example, Box supports tagging and full text searches.  It’s also worth noting that desktop or mobile versions of these apps often sport additional features that aren’t available within the web-based app, with APIs that extend their functionality even further.

The third scenario the article presents is whether “you are constantly policing how people use your brand assets.”  To be fair, this is one area where a dedicated DAM system will often outperform its file-sharing counterparts.  Although some file-sharing outfits are nudging ever closer, features such as access control, rights management, third-party integration and batch processing have long reached maturity within most DAM systems.  It’s easier for a specific DAM vendor to provide add-ons that integrate with file-sharing apps (as many do), than it is for a file-sharing app to integrate with the multitude of DAM systems out there.

The fourth and final scenario that the article presents is if “your budget is tight”.  With the recent withdrawal of their SmartImage solution from the low-cost end of the DAM market, Widen may be realising that the DAM software market doesn’t scale as well as they expected, and attracting new users to a fully-fledged system via a ‘freemium’ upgrade path hasn’t exactly gone to plan.  Perhaps the value for money that file-sharing platforms represent, with feature-sets that are becoming comparable to dedicated DAM systems has something to do with it.

To their credit, the article does entertain the option of combining DAM and file-sharing systems, and with many DAM vendors now offering add-on solutions that can connect and synchronise with APIs from Dropbox, Google Drive et al, there’s no real reason not to mix and match.

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One comment

  • I appreciated the information presented in this blog post, and I particularly liked how the differences of DAM systems and file-sharing were broken down bit by bit. We can sometimes blur the line of what is considered a digital asset, but with the way it has been explained here provided a clearer understanding of digital asset criteria.

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