My infuriatingly unsuccessful quest for a good media asset management tool

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.

TOPICS: Storage, Google, DIY

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, DIY


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • not sure

    We use ACDSEE I think it is at version 6 on the pro version. It does most of what you require with a few exceptions. best of all it acts like explorer when going thru folders (directories). We've been using it since version 3.0 from what i recall. Maybe even an earlier version, but it handles all formats pretty good and the pro version you can do lots of edits. Check it out here!

    Disclaimer: we have nothing to do with the company. just recommending a neat useful program.
  • File managers

    Give Filemaker Pro a try. It works on PC, Mac and iOS.
    • I second that...

      Seriously try FileMaker Pro, Im pretty sure it will meet your criteria.

      1) Fully relational database
      2) Handles Multiple File Formats PDF, PNG, Tiff, JPG etc.
      3) Come with a Ready made Content Management template out of the box.
      4) Multiplatform:- Windows, Mac, and iOS
      5) Can be shared across a network both natively and web/html.

      They also have a have a free 30 day trial to see if it fits your needs.
      • The only problem

        Is that FMP Server is annoying. Oh, and you can't host on Linux.
  • Maybe...

    ...the secret is making the file name descriptive enough that it's easily found when searching.
  • Love the humor

    "Did I mention that I'm cranky? I want a cookie."

    That made me choke on my coffee. When in doubt get a cookie!

    I have a similar issue but its just me being lazy about organizing and going through my backup files to organize and delete the duplicates. But I will pay attention to your file manager update, it may be something worth me looking into .
  • You need Windows Longhorn

    WinFS will solve all your problems.

    Glad I could help.
    • Oh man

      That was absolutely great. XD
  • Solution

    I use Zoner Photo Studio Pro 12 hours a day. It will look after your catalogue of Images bitmap and Vector (as well as movies and sound of any sort) brilliantly. It will also allow excellent editing within the program. It's not photoshop but has a lot of skills, not just basic or beginners stuff.
    It allows search, filter, favorite folders, and heaps more.
    Surely the most overlooked Manager/Editor around.
    Mature, stable and inexpensive (free available too).
  • Maybe there's a good reason

    That a complete solution is so expensive? The only people that need it are enterprises with teams of graphic designers and photographers. I'm pretty sure the place that said "Contact Us" was Canto Cumulus. I used their standalone solution for photographs 10 years ago, until they quit supporting it. Then I used Extensis Portfolio. Now I use Lightroom. But the only people I can think of that sell to graphic designers is Canto. And maybe that market is so small because graphic designers don't need to catalog everything; they want to draw something new.
    big red one
  • Google plus does not "share" by default

    While Picassa uploads by default, the default file sharing is PRIVATE. You have to explicitly share you images in order to share them.

    So you initial and apparently principal objection to letting the tool actually do the work is off base, which you would have found if you have read the dialog in detail.
    • I'm with David on this one

      "While Picassa uploads by default, the default file sharing is PRIVATE."

      And in the history of the web, there have never been:
      - changes to privacy settings where things that used to be private silently become less private
      - bugs that allow people to see things that are marked as private

      Never, ever fool yourself into thinking that it is okay to put stuff on the Internet because others won't be able to see it. Assume that everything you put on the Internet could be seen by someone and you will be far less surprised when it happens.

      Note that I'm NOT suggesting you should never store stuff on the Internet. I use SkyDrive and Dropbox and email and Facebook and I'm generally happy with the service I get. However, if everything I've got on the Internet becomes publicly visible, it won't hurt me one bit. I don't even bother making anything private on Facebook because I'm under no illusions that anything IS private on Facebook. Same goes for Google+.
      • I Agree

        Which is quite remarkable, seeing as this is toddbottom3 that I'm talking about here.

        QUITE remarkable.
  • I'm guessing you tried Photo Gallery?

    You know, the one that installs with Windows Essentials? I'm sure it doesn't contain all the things you are looking for, but I'm guessing what you are looking for is something like that (doesn't need to rescan folders, can sort and search via keywords, dates, names, folders, authors, etc.). Maybe there is an extension for it to handle all the file types you need.
  • Where you see a tool problem...

    Where you see a tool problem, I see an fundamental OS file system problem. When you think about the excellent database technologies that exist today, from a end user prespective, interaction with file systems still remains as it did 20+ years ago. We still can't type in a simple query and have a list of files returned in a time relative to what it would take for a sql database operation. Or the fact, that an OS file systems still can establish or maintain a relationship between two or more files and/or the application that created them.

    My point is that organizing, cataloging, searching, should be core to what an evolved OS system file does for the user. Could there be better tooling out there today to address this scenario? Sure, but let look deeper at fundmentally what you actually need to do this in the first place.
  • In OS X, you can use the built-in search

    features of the Finder. Open a Finder window and press command-F. You can then search by all sorts of criteria, including keywords (that you can enter in the Get Info dialog), plus some truly arcane stuff like whether an image has an alpha channel, the altitude it was taken at, the camera aperture value the photo was taken with, intended audience for the document, etc. Depending on what other software you have installed (for example, OmniGraffle Pro), you can also search by canvas name in your graphics, etc.

    You can then set the Finder to display in coverflow mode, so you can flip through previews of your images. You can drag and drop the desired coverflow icon directly into PowerPoint. Coverflow supports all the major bitmap formats (PNG, TIFF, BMP, JPG, PSD), plus AI (CS or later, I believe) and PDF).
    • Oh, and any search you create you can save

      and drop into the Finder Sidebar in case it's a search you use frequently.
      • And in Windows, this even works on networked file shares

        Been able to do all of that in Windows for a very long time. Even better, the server maintained search index is available on Windows file shares so the search you submit on the local machine is submitted to the file share server where it can quickly return results for network files. The client doesn't need to index the shared files, it only submits the query to the server and retrieves the results. Instant file sharing AND indexing. Remember one of the requirements:

        "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."

        baggins, I know that you feel the world of technology begins and ends at apple's walled garden but this is just one of the areas where apple is far behind everyone else. The answer here is not to move to os x since it offers nothing that can't be done in any other OS.
        • I was giving the guy a solution to his problem

          nothing more. Instead of telling me all about how Windows can do it so much better, why don't you explain it to the blog author so, you know, you can actually help him with his problem instead of making it a contest about which OS is better.
          • I managed to do both

            Killed 2 birds with one stone.