I found Romney Whitehead’s recent blog post titled “Curation before Creation” both timely and very relevant for DAM pros across all business sectors. We are all dealing with too much in the way of digital media assets and work loads, and not enough in the way of money, time or other resources. Effective curation is a way to manage this dilemma. While her example was using photographs, effective curation could apply across any asset type.
The DAM industry and technologies that support it have evolved from infancy to crawling through standing erect and striding. It’s no longer just about digitizing media assets. And, at the risk of alienating my media archive brethren, it’s clear that not all assets are valuable and not all of them should be treated the same. In a pure archive play with fixed costs, a much longer view, and a historical mandate, it may be a different case. For the commercial / business environment, we have to manage resources and be smart about our time and return on effort and investment.
It’s Digital! Why Not Keep Everything?
There is no point in having hundreds, thousands, millions of digital media assets just because it can be done. Without good metadata, good rights info and a way to store, deliver, review and distribute them, all you will have, in essence, is a big digital mausoleum—a place where “RIP” will be all you could say about some of those media assets!
The argument can be made that we don’t know what might be valuable later in time and ours is not to judge, but to preserve, especially when digital file storage is relatively cheap and very easy. This reminds me of my experience in the stock photo and footage industry in the 80’s and 90’s. Back then, most agencies were competing on their total volume of materials available and promoting quantity as a virtue: “We’ve got over 3 million photos to choose from!” and “Thousands of hours of footage available!” and so forth. When I was at The Image Bank, we came to realize that the only thing worse than a million of anything was the thought of having another million, or more. And the crazy thing about it was that even with full metadata and rights records, most would remain dark! That’s when our focus shifted to quality, not solely volume. The goal was to make sure that every research request produced fewer assets, but that each was as potent a set as possible, completely relevant to the particular need at hand.
The Shift from Digital Media Quantity to Media Asset Quality
The new approach proved to be very successful. Curating the collection turned a “city of millions of images” into an exclusive complex of selected assets. Each piece of real estate in that collection was special and treated as a valuable resource. Once this was underway, further curation to fill gaps, update and re-prioritize assets became much easier. Every submission was reviewed and edited, the selects were further processed to assure high quality production masters, and detailed metadata and rights info were incorporated. Assets were easier to find because you weren’t trudging through piles of slag in search of the gold.
Fewer assets got the full treatment, but we all knew that every asset we handled was specifically hand-picked for the collection. In this case, less was more. Five images that were variations of EXACTLY what our client was looking for were far more helpful and valuable than 25 images that were sort of relevant. The extra twenty added only clutter and time to the production process.
Valuable Media Resources Through Curation
Curation provides a formal structure for prioritizing digital media assets, making selections and scaling further efforts in response to an asset’s overall value for archive and business goals, and the practice is more important than ever to the DAM / Media Asset community. Just because we can save everything doesn’t mean we should save everything or give every asset the same level of effort, service, access and completeness. Designing a tiered approach to manage all aspects from storage management, SLA’s, depth and detail of metadata, rights, file types and accessibility are all reasonable and intelligent ways to maximize the value of the digital archive, while making the most of limited supporting resources.
Yes, occasionally a “diamond in the rough” may get overlooked. However, the ability to manage exceptions always exists, so fears of missing something that may have value in the future should not prevent us from maximizing our workflows, processes, resources and infrastructure today. At the rate new digital assets are being created, a curated approach with sound discipline and rules is becoming increasingly important to made sure that each item is given the focus and access that it ultimately warrants based on its intrinsic value and significance.
It’s no longer content rules, but quality content rules!