My infuriatingly unsuccessful quest for a good media asset management tool

Summary:The one in which David's search for a comprehensive, powerful, fast and flexible media asset management program turns out to be a complete bust. There is ranting. There is whining. Good times.

I'm giving up. I don't normally give up when it comes to tech projects, but I'm out of time and I am so, totally, completely, tear-my-hair-out, out of patience.

Oh, and no, this isn't about Linux. Surprised?

Over the past two weeks I have continually lowered my requirement set, reduced my "must haves," given up on my "like to haves," to the point where there's nothing left, not really.

It's about image management. Sigh. Don't start telling me image management is easy, Picasa, yada yada, Elements Organizer, yada yada, Lightroom, yada yada, Bridge... whatever. I've heard it all. I've tried it all.

I give a lot of presentations. A very lot. I spend hours, days, weeks, months of my life in PowerPoint. No need to pity me. I actually quite like PowerPoint. But the point is, to make these presentations more interesting and explain things more clearly, I use a lot of images.

Not just photos. Images. And here's where things begin to break down.

There are two completely different classes of images out there: bitmap-based images and vector-based images. Photos are bitmaps, filled with lots and lots of pixels of information. The more pixels you have, the higher-resolution the image.

Vector-based images are line drawings with fills. Rather than huge matrices filled with dots, vectors are actual line and curve formulas, linked together in a format that describes an illustration.

Bitmaps only scale if you have a boatload of bits. Vector images scale naturally, because the formula just recalculates for the larger size. Vectors, therefore, are ideal for drawings and illustrations, rather than photos and paintings.

Photoshop does bitmaps. Illustrator does vectors. Photo file formats are things like JPEG, TIFF, PNG, GIF, RAW, and so on. Vector file formats are things like EPS and AI.

With me so far?

I have thousands of images, both bitmap and vector. In the case of photos, I've taken quite a few myself. I've also bought a lot of stock images. In the case of vectors, I've bought most of them, but modified some of them in Illustrator and Photoshop to best suit my presentations.

The problem is, finding the right image has been getting out of control. It can take an hour or more to just find an image in my library. Yes, I've organized my folders as best as possible, and I can easily dig through and see thumbnails, but I wanted a better way.

I wanted to search by keyword, review images quickly, search across collections, choose based on metadata, file type, and more. I wanted a way to find an image in 30 seconds instead of 30 minutes. I wanted an image organizer.

Here then, are the simple set of specs I started out with:

  • I wanted to have a database-based organizer, so that searches would be fast and all the files wouldn't have to be scanned for each search.
  • I wanted that database to hold all my media asset files (both vector and bitmap).
  • And I wanted that system to allow relatively easy drag-and-drop from the desktop to the application so I could get content in and out of the system while composing presentations, without losing track of the flow of the actual lesson I was preparing.

Oh, and it would be nice to have this on a network, so I could easily do my work either at my desk or on my laptop.

I am in a foul mood. Enter the photo organizer category.

There is a very large category of software called the photo organizer. As you might imagine, these products organize photos. Right away, you can see the problem, right? Photos. Bitmaps. They know nothing of illustrations and vector graphic files.

I set these products aside for a while as I searched for a more comprehensive asset management tool. In terms of standalone products, the only one I found was called Portfolio from Extensis. This product hasn't been updated since 2011, and its main version number hasn't changed since something like 2005. The company also didn't respond to requests for information.

There is a category called "Digital Asset Management" out there as well. These are enterprise-level products, often Web-based. You can begin to tell they'll be trouble because there's no price for the product on the site. Almost all providers of DAM tools have a "let us have an expert call you" button.

Here's a hint: I have two remaining days to implement the entire solution, and if I have to have an expert call me (apparently, a unique phrase for DAM solutions), then I can pretty much be assured it's not going to save me time (and most likely will be way outside my budget).

I even tried SharePoint. I have Office 365 , which comes with a SharePoint account, and SharePoint has a Media Asset Management application. Feh. It will store files, but it is about as interactive and drag-and-droppy as a dead fish. On top of that, PDF files loaded into SharePoint's media management system show as default files. They couldn't even be bothered to render a thumbnail of the PDF.

Plus, after two or three calls to Microsoft, no one could answer whether or not it's possible to grow my 10GB SharePoint disk quota to a larger capacity, if I needed it to store more images.

Major fail.

So I decided to lower my expectations. Rather than organizing all my images together, I'd create one bucket for bitmaps and one bucket for vectors. After all, the market is clogged with photo organizing tools.

The Big Kahuna of photo organizing tools is Adobe Lightroom. I'll get back to that in a minute. First, let me talk about all the other photo organizing tools, with a particular nod of "WTF" to Google's Picasa.

Most photo organizing tools try to be editors as well. I just ignored that part. I didn't want red-eye correction, I wanted to find pictures with eyes in them. But most of the tools will catalog JPEGs and camera RAW. Some can handle PNGs and TIFFs, and a few handle old-school GIF images.

With one or two exceptions, the database catalog in these systems resides on your local system. This is a single-user application, and if you try to move the database somewhere else, there's no end of complaining on the part of the application.

Next up, I rant some more, talk about Picasa's weirdnesses and Lightroom's fail, and rant even more. Good times, good times...

Topics: Storage, Google, SMBs


In addition to hosting the ZDNet Government and ZDNet DIY-IT blogs, CBS Interactive's Distinguished Lecturer David Gewirtz is an author, U.S. policy advisor and computer scientist. He is featured in The History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets, is one of America's foremost cyber-security experts, and is a top expert on savi... Full Bio

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