Category Archives: Cloud Libraries

  • Why Do I Need a Separate Tool for File Distribution?

    Image: Town Hall Square, Vilnius, Lithuania ©Peter Krogh 2019

    It’s common for a master library application to have some ability to distribute files—and some distribution tools can also function as a library—so why should you use different tools? There are several good reasons, but they all fall under the heading of “it’s very difficult to make something that does both jobs well.”

    Collection and Distribution are cloud-native processes

    In most cases, distribution happens over the internet. This is often true even when access happens at your place of business. Access by mobile devices typically routes through the internet, even for files stored in the same location. As soon as you leave the building—or need to grant outside access—you’re generally using the internet. 

    Collection of media is also typically something that happens over the internet. This could mean that files are emailed or sent by text. But it’s more ideal to submit through an online tool that allows for some level of tagging at the point of submission. 

    Running a secure, internet-accessible library inside your own network is a difficult thing even for good IT departments. Managing users, access controls and permissions—while defending against hacking and other threats—is a full-time job. Using a cloud service for this work takes this burden off you. 

    Use cloud for everything?

    Okay, so can’t I use a cloud service as my main library? Maybe. It depends on what you need to store and how you are going to use it. For simple libraries that are not too large, and don’t have a lot of production requirements, a cloud service may be sufficient. 

    But there are plenty of instances where it makes sense to store raw captures, production files, and sensitive material in an entirely separate place from the distribution copy of the media. Reasons for this include:

    • A cloud service might be needlessly slow and expensive for an entire library of master video files.
    • In most cases the set of media you want to keep is much larger than the set of files you need to distribute. This is typically true even for the production process.
    • The source media—video and image capture files—are also typically very large and unsuitable for general distribution.
    • The very structure of cloud services make them slower for image optimization and project-making, and the optimization tools are typically less capable than the ones that run locally. (Face it, most professional creative works run through Adobe software running on desktop at some point in the creative process). 
    • Finally, I think it’s best practice to have a master copy of your media library stored on a device in your own possession. Preservation of media should be a multi-pronged process. Having your own full copy of your media library is a prudent step. 

    A firewall

    Using a separate distribution service also creates a firewall between the user-accessible copy and your primary media archive. Not only does this provide protection against malware or other attack, it is also a structural defense against access to files that are not intended for distribution.

    Next week we’ll going to dive into the nuts and bolts of media files and formats. It’s important to have a good grasp on some of these details as you configure your media library.

  • Software Independence

    It’s very intuitive to think of your media collection as being “in” a piece of DAM software, but I think it’s important to understand it a different way. The software that you use to view and organize your collection is really pointing to a set of files and hosting some information about the media. 

    While I may do my organizational work in a particular software environment, the images and much of the organizational work I do should be able to live independently from the software I’m using at the present time. This can include the files themselves and all the information and curation that the metadata represents.

    Data portability

    Some data may be easily exported to a new hosting application. Some may be exportable, but hard to replicate elsewhere, and some information may be effectively locked in an application forever.

    The relationships that are created by sharing, integrating, embedding and linking may be very difficult to migrate from one application to another. As you consider what applications and services to make use of – and especially how to integrate one with another – you’ll want to consider the limitations you might be making for yourself and the extent of your “partnership” with any particular piece of software. 

    One of our fundamental principles at Tandem Vault is to provide a way for you to export all work you do in our system. It’s your material and your data, and you should be able to take it with you if and when you decide to leave. 

  • Guidelines for Sound Digital Asset Management

    Regardless of the exact details of your system, there are some best practices that everyone should strive for in collection management.

    Standardize 

    As you create and adjust workflow, it’s important to standardize as much of it as possible. Having standard practices helps to prevent mistakes, and also helps you to recognize and recover from mistakes when they do happen. The very process of standardizing practices helps to understand them better. Finally, having standard practices allows you to more easily migrate to new software, hardware and methods when the need for migration arises. 

    You can standardize many parts of the workflow, including work order, software, metadata usage and more. 

    Simplify 

    You should try to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. This may seem like an ironic statement, given the complexity in the media ecosystem, but it’s a really important point. Creating a modern forward-compatible media library can be a complicated endeavor, requiring the integration of many elements. Wherever possible though, you’ll want to simplify. Whether you are deciding on the storage methods you use, the metadata to describe your images, or the software that runs the library, try the simplest approach first, and add complexity as it becomes necessary. 

    One of the main reasons to outline the many components of the entire ecosystem is to help you understand which features you need and which are not important for you. 

    Don’t rely on your (or anyone else’s) memory 

    What you know about your media collection is an essential part of its value. But any information that exists only in the memory of specific people is less valuable than information that is stored as metadata in the library. Not only are you likely to eventually forget some relevant details, but it’s much harder to make use of what you know than what is written

    Attaching information to the media allows you to remember better, but it also allows you to make use of the data programmatically. Attaching the information also allows other people or programs to make use of the data. Having a consolidated library provides a durable and centralized place to store important information that adds value to both the media, and to the information itself. 

    Be comprehensive 

    The more universal your cataloging structures and practices are, the more value and efficiency you can get from your media. Consistency in organization allows for faster and more reliable searching of your collection, and collecting related images together maximizes the value of each individual image. 

    Build for the future 

    In creating a DAM system, you need to allow for growth. Some of this can be foreseen, such as storage needs. You’ll want to make sure that your library can grow as new media comes in. We can also see that the need to integrate a library with outside services is a growing need. Choosing library software that allows for flexible integration will help extend your use of that application. 

    Do it once… 

    Everything you do to tag or curate a media collection is an opportunity to add more structure to the collection, and thus to increase its value. When you rate for quality, or make useful tags, or curate media into groups, you are adding knowledge. By doing this work inside your collection management application, you make the work easy to find and repurpose. 

    … but don’t overdo it 

    Once you see the control that good management gives you over your collection, you might find yourself going “DAM happy”. You need to strike a balance between what’s useful and what’s a waste of time. Noting who is in a photo is very useful; labeling each image “looking right,” “looking center,” or “looking left” is probably overkill. The methodology I present starts with the tasks that offer the highest return for your work, and gradually works down through less cost-effective tasks. 

    Watch out for migration triggers 

    Throughout the life of your media collection, there will be events that trigger a need for migration. This could be the need to move to a new software package, or moving to new storage hardware, or some other change in workflow. You’ll want to be on the lookout for these, and plan for successful transition. 

    In Wednesday’s post, we’ll outline the need to understand the media and the metadata as independent from any particular application. 

    This post is adapted from The DAM Book 3.0 which lays out these principles in comprehensive form.

  • Consolidate and Unify

    Any project to implement good asset management will begin with consolidating the material as much as possible. This means you’ll want to create central storage, and bring as much of the relevant material together as possible. 

    Benefits of consolidation

    Consolidating the media is the first step to creating a secure, resilient archive of the media. It’s an essential step in creating good storage and backup. It’s also essential for the eventual migrations that are required for long-term maintenance. 

    Consolidating the files will also help you to tag the files in a universal manner. Tagging from within a single environment, such as one catalog, allows you to be consistent in the keywords and other metadata you use. 

    Consolidating all your media begins with a discovery process to understand how much space all your stuff takes up. Once you have a good idea of that, you’ll need to get enough unified storage so that you can bring it all together. This is typically true, even if you expect to use a cloud-based tool for your primary user access. In most cases it’s faster, easier, cheaper and better to do this locally before uploading to the cloud.

    Unification

    In addition to bringing everything together in one place, it’s also advantageous to unify your DAM practices as much as possible. This includes consistent use of metadata, standardizing media formats, having a consistent naming convention, and normalization of rights information. All of these unifications will pay off in the medium and long term, and some will give dividends in the short term as well.

    Unifying your existing collection will also help you build practices for the future. It’s hard to get your policies exactly right until you have road tested them. And there’s no better road test than one you actually have to drive on (in the car you’ll be driving).   

    Consolidation challenges

    Consolidation can be a daunting step if the media files are spread across many devices (worse yet, many users). It can take time to work through everything, and you might find that the collection is really big. It can also be problematic as new files continue to be created after you have transferred the existing contents. 

    At the opening stage of consolidation, it’s best to make sure you are gathering at least one of everything, and not to worry too much about duplication. If there is duplication that is easy to identify, you can fix it as you go along, but you’ll also have the opportunity to fix it later, once your collection has been consolidated and cataloged. 

    While this was originally written for photographers working on their own collections, the basic principle holds for all kinds of media collections. Consolidation is key to preservation and effective use of the media. 

    Remember the 80/20 rule

    As you consolidate, it’s good to keep the 80-20 rule in mind. In most cases, there is a large percentage of media that can be gathered easily (80% perhaps) and a smaller percentage that  will be hard to find (20% perhaps). Don’t let “perfect be the enemy of good” by delaying until 100% of media has been consolidated. Make a good faith effort to gather as much as you can, and get to work.

    Next week, we’ll continue our examination of the building blocks of great Digital Asset Management. 

  • DAM Hierarchy of Needs

    In 1943, Abraham Maslow published a hierarchy of human needs, starting with basic survival and moving all the way up to self-actualization. This is a pretty useful metaphor for the way you can approach collection management. In building your DAM ecosystem, I propose an alternate hierarchy of needs – one that starts with the security of the assets, is followed by discoverability, and eventually peaks in curation and distribution of the media. 

    Preserve the media

    We are moving from an imperfect present to a more perfect future. The most basic need is to get to the future with your media collection intact. That primary goal influences everything else. At times, you’ll need to make some choices between expediency and security. I recommend opting for protection and preservation.  

    Ensure forward compatibility

    We want to bring our images with us into the future. Ensuring that we can do this requires centralization of the archive, occasional migration to new formats or storage, and the use of software and techniques that don’t send you down a dead-end road. 

    Find media when you need it

    While preserving images is the main goal, it’s not the only important one; you need to be able to find images when you want them. If you can’t find an image, you can’t use it, no matter how securely it has been stored and backed up. Images need to be cataloged and tagged.

    Make the images look right

    Sometimes images look great right out of the camera, but many times they need some additional optimization. The approach you take to image optimization will have important ramifications on your entire collection management. Using (mostly) non-destructive, parametric, read-only image editors, we can construct a workflow that provides for maximum flexibility. (I’ll have more on this a little later.) 

    Curate: Make cool stuff with your media

    Curation takes place in the upper reaches of the hierarchy. Selecting just the right image to illustrate some point, or putting media together to tell a story is the process of curation. If we’ve done our work properly on the lower levels, we remove the busywork from curation, and we spend our time making and refining selections, crafting our photographic speech.

    Distribute, share, integrate, embed

    In order to tell a story, or do any other communication with imagery, you’ll need to make them available for others to see. This might be a simple export, or it could be some type of persistent connectivity. You’ll want as much information to be retained in the catalog as possible, since the usage history of your media is some of the most valuable data over time.

  • Library As Platform


    In the next two weeks, our blog posts will focus on the nature and structure of media libraries. This broader context will help inform the choice of the right tool for any particular task. 

    Integration and connectivity are becoming central opportunities and challenges of the modern media ecosystem. The integration of mobile devices and connected services has become essential to the deployment and value of visual media. This is pushing us from a world of single to one of multi: multiple images, multiple access points, multiple devices, multiple sources of images, and multiple outbound connections. The software, services and methods you use to manage your collection need to support (at least some of) this capability. 

    Connectivity between your collection and other entities is fast becoming standard practice. We expect to access our visual media on our phones or over the web. And we need to integrate the media in a collection with other applications like Slack, Dropbox, layout and design software, publication and product management systems, just to name a few.  

    Our understanding of image content is becoming tied to outside services as well, from the social media graph, to Machine Learning tagging, to linked data–what we can know about an image goes beyond the old concept of metadata. 

    Our media libraries are moving from silos to platforms, and connectivity is the key to maximizing the power of that platform. 

    This post is adapted from The DAM Book 3.0 which lays out these principles in comprehensive form.

  • Connected Libraries

    Let’s start the blog posts with an outline of the nature and value of connected media libraries as this will provide some background philosophy that informs what we’re doing at Tandem Vault.

    It’s increasingly important for media libraries to have expanded connectivity. This could be the ability for one person to access the library from multiple devices; or the ability to access the library by multiple people. It could also be the ability to allow other software to make direct use of the media. For corporate and institutional uses, connectivity has become an essential component (and that was before we all started working remotely). Here’s a quick overview of several structural approaches to connectivity:

    Reasons to connect

    • Digital assets on multiple devices and places – We’ve grown accustomed to having access to our digital files from many different places. This has primarily been driven by mobile computing, where we make, consume, and share our visual media.
    • Controlled distribution to others – Distribution has always been an important need for institutional collections. This need has greatly accelerated as the pace of visual communication has increased. Whenever possible, distribution should be done directly from the library in order to capture and leverage usage information.
    • Employee and stakeholder access – Visual media creation and use by employees and stakeholders is expanding rapidly, creating an increased need for access. This requires both the collection and distribution of visual images on a widespread basis.
    • Collecting media from employees and stakeholders – In addition to media access, it’s now commonplace for companies and institutions to gather, centralize, tag and deploy media that is created by employees and other stakeholders.
    • Share with other applications and services – You may also want to share your media collection with other services like social media platforms. While this can be done with a simple export, sharing by a connected export (more on this later) streamlines the process and may allow you to bring valuable information back into the library.
    • Integrate with other systems – If you use a CMS, or one of the many variations of these—like a Product Information Management (PIM) or Building Information Management (BIM)—it may be important to integrate the library directly. This is usually done by an Application Program Interface (API).
    • Tagging services and connected data – Our creation and use of metadata is moving quickly to one that relies on external helpers. This includes computational tagging services and data that lives in external databases.
    • Provide a firewall – It’s become increasingly dangerous for corporate networks and servers to be open to remote or third-party access. The need for access has made this hard to secure. By using a remote library service for media collection and distribution, risks can be reduced for a company’s main data servers.

    Methods for connection

    There are several structures that are used to connect media libraries to multiple people or devices. Each of these has advantages for some uses, and you’ll find a number of apps and services that utilize multiple methods to enable different kinds of workflow.

    • One application across multiple devices – Connectivity can be managed by a single application. This is a feature of photographer tools like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. We also see this with file-sharing services like Dropbox, where the installation of the app can manage the distribution of files to others with the same app.
    • A web-accessible library – Another structure for integration is the use of a web-accessible library. A copy of the media can live in a cloud server and be made available to different users. This allows for multi-party access, and in some cases it will allow for multi-party upload to the library.
    • Integration through API – Real integration is typically achieved through the use of an API to enable one app or service to talk to another. This is a very common approach in modern software and services, and powers most of the connectivity.
    • Integration through embedding – It’s also frequently possible for a web-based media library to allow media objects to be embedded in other services.

    This post is adapted from The DAM Book 3.0 which lays out these principles in comprehensive form.