Widen Release Media Collective 9.0

Last week, DAM vendor, Widen, announced version 9.0 of their Media Collective DAM solution.  Of particular note was the ‘Insights’ feature, which they released some press about:

Widen Enterprises, a leading provider of software services that help marketing teams organize content, has launched Digital Asset Management (DAM) Insights, a new analytics tool for Media Collective, the company’s flagship DAM solution. The analytics tool combines web and internal DAM analytics to show marketers where digital assets are published, who uses them and how they perform.” [Read More]

There is a longer article written by their product manager, Libby Maurer which explains what they have done in more detail.  The basis for Insights seems to be about being able to identify what happens to your digital assets outside your DAM, as well as within it.  When I first read through this, the update looked more interesting than it actually turned out to be on closer inspection.  I boiled it down to these three feature points:

  • Extracting geographic IP address data from assets embedded in external web properties.
  • Usage intent requests for non-restricted downloads (those that are made accessible without a login).
  • Aggregated reporting and dashboard with pie charts.

Some of this is more addressing limitations that Widen’s product has rather than general issues that every DAM exhibits.  For example, this item from Libby’s series of problem/answer stanzas:


Most asset data is only available at the individual asset level. I’d prefer to see it aggregated across many assets so I get a holistic picture and easily compare it to other data sources.” 


See aggregated data for entire categories, asset groups or collections. Then, export raw data and combine it with other sources like web analytics, CMS analytics or web marketing platforms.” 

I have seen a number of systems developed by other firms that can present aggregated asset usage statistical data which you can slice and dice according to both your own unique metadata model and additional attributes such as the stated usage.  Widen’s screengrab looks like it is showing some fairly conventional events like logins, searches, downloads, uploads etc and the presentation (while neat, tidy and grouped together on a single dashboard) is not exactly ground-breaking.  The ‘export raw data’ feature seems like it’s going to be an option to get a CSV file with the audit trail in it and it will be you who is doing the work of combining it ‘with other sources’, by hand in Excel (or whatever your spreadsheet of choice happens to be).

I can’t tell exactly how the tracking of usage-purpose  works outside the login-protected area, but my guess is that the individual who wants the asset is obliged to specify from a fixed range of options what they plan to do with the asset before they get given the file, either via some kind of drop-down menu or pop-up control that appears when they click ‘download’.  There is a flip-side to this, of course, that you will inevitably lose a few downloads by putting these kind of obstacles in people’s way (and also the risk that the delivery mechanism will not work properly for some obscure technical reason like an old or unconventional browser etc).  Those are likely to be minimal occurrences, however, so although a relatively simple and low-tech feature, this does offer some opportunity to gain more insights about what assets accessed external to the DAM are being used.  

The feature to identify the geographic location where assets are used is a fairly straightforward technique.  Unless there are some other more sophisticated methods being employed then this probably uses the IP address of the source request (i.e. the person looking at the asset on another website with their browser).  It is possible to infer various rules the numerical range an IP address resides in to deduce what the country of origin probably is.  There are many free (or low cost) databases which developers can use like a lookup table or concordance index to identify this fairly easily and although the method is not 100% reliable, it is usually good enough.  Making inferences from embedded references is also how most analytics technologies work (including Google Analytics) except usually it is either some client-side code and/or an invisible image (aka ‘beacon’) which exists solely to track what users are doing rather than a proxy (or preview) to represent an asset.  Essentially, this is re-using WCM technologies in a DAM.  

It is important to note that any product (not just Widen’s) that allows you to use embed codes to place references to remote assets from your DAM inside other websites also has support for this, even if interpretation of it is not fully implemented into an interface that you view the data through.  No doubt, the existence of this article and Widen’s own press output means it is probably also coming soon to a DAM system near you (if not already a feature).

In the accompanying video, Libby goes through a template case-study where a brand manager constructs a report that shows performance of different types of media (as measured by downloads).  I have to admit, I find these ‘user story’ vignettes that are popular with marketing agencies (and now a few vendors) to be fairly irritating and sometimes they are used to try and deflect attention away from difficult questions, but perhaps that’s just because I have sat through quite a few presentations involving poorer examples of the form in the past (the jaunty shopping-mall acoustic guitar musical accompaniment to the video does them no favours there either).  I would prefer to see a real brand manager talking about this, rather than a literally faceless cartoon – although I would acknowledge that since the feature is new, their opportunities to find anyone might have been somewhat limited.  The example itself is OK, but the insight on offer isn’t totally satisfactory because (as is described on the video) there might be numerous reasons why one media performs better than another and you really need more detail than this to make a decision.  If you were using this tool as a justification to ask for increased investment into a given media type (especially an expensive format like video) I can envisage lots of fastidious FDs and CFOs asking for a far greater level of proof before additional funds were going to be made available for that purpose.  For example one reason a video might not have been downloaded a lot is that the title wasn’t relevant enough or the duration was excessive (or too short).  Deducing the reasons why one type of media has higher levels of engagement than another is a question laden with all kinds of other caveats.  Widen’s Insight feature won’t give you much more than broad and non-specific answers to these conundrums (at this point in time, at least).

There is an opportunity for more business intelligence to be gleaned via this embedded technique than appears to have been taken currently.  Using the previous case, some A/B testing of different videos, titles, lengths etc and being able to compare/contrast results might have helped increase the insight on offer – although it would have been necessary to track and utilise a custom field for each asset in the DAM.  There are other simpler features that could be realised without any media production or distribution implications by using the callback data returned to the DAM when a request for the media was made from a remote website.  For example, you could provide a list of authoritative web distribution channels either with each asset (as metadata) or alternatively associated with a given tag/field.  Using the referrer data you can then identify where requests are coming from (as well as any that are not deemed authoritative) .  This could more useful to a marketer than just a geographic location since it is based on the specific channel and allows the data to be correlated more precisely with regional marketing campaigns.  Some readers might be noticing that both these ideas are based on integrating a DAM metadata model with other business intelligence data and this should be offering clues about where the real opportunity for DAM lies, whether in a marketing context or any other. 

The sense I am gaining is that Widen (and most, if not all, of their industry peers) are running out of ideas, or at least the cost of implementing the more ambitious ones is becoming prohibitive relative to their budgets or development resources.  I note their website has the statement ‘Widen are a marketing technology company’ featured prominently on every page.  This says to me that they want to re-position themselves because they can’t come up with much more to say about DAM any longer and they perceive that their market is showing signs of transition to a more mature phase where the new business available is for more demanding replacement opportunities (where you are required to prove how much better you are than the incumbent) rather than new money for solutions that were not in widespread previously.  There are still many aspects of current DAM systems, however, which are nowhere near good enough for a lot of more in-depth tasks involving digital assets, but a more critical problem is convincing marketing-oriented customers (especially) that these are innovations which they can gain benefits from (and therefore are worthy of investment).  In many ways, this period resembles the earlier years of DAM where you might spend 5-10 minutes (if you were allowed that long) describing what the subject was all about and why someone might need to take an interest in DAM, except now it is the need for more advanced metadata management which requires justification as many of the users are incorrectly considering Digital Asset Management a ‘solved problem’ simply because of the fact they own a software product with those words the title.

Overall, the impression I get of this update is that it’s rather thin when you break down what they have delivered.  The thought process behind it is a good one, but it’s not in-depth enough to be that useful and it seems like they’ve had to employ a lot of marketing artistry to try and make it sound more impressive.  There are some implied suggestions that Widen are actively seeking to escape Planet DAM (to coin a phrase) but if they are planning on this upgrade providing them with the requisite spaceship to boldly go where none of their competitors has gone before, they are likely to be disappointed, not least because they have not yet filled it with sufficient innovation rocket fuel to get it off the ground.  

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