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

Picasa is special though. Picasa doesn't just open once you install it. Picasa gives you a choice: scan your entire hard drive, or just major folders. There's no "don't scan because I want to tell your where my stuff is" option. So Picasa scans. It found hundreds of folders filled with various parts from previous projects, none of which I wanted in my database.

What gave me the willies about Picasa, though, was its insistence that it wanted to share my images on Google+. I avoided this by refusing to log into Google with Picasa, but it made me nervous. I have a lot of licensed images I'm allowed to use in my own works, but not that I'm allowed to publish as standalone images. I didn't want Picasa to just upload all my files, willy-nilly.

And, besides, Picasa only handled bitmaps anyway.

With most of the other photo organizers, there's really not much of a difference. They all were a bit sucky in one way or another (I downloaded and tried at least eight of them beyond the usual suspects), and since there was a well-regarded professional option, I decided to discard the consumer products and look, once again, to Adobe.

This is where Lightroom comes into the picture.

No matter who you talk to, when you start talking about professional photo management, Lightroom comes up. So I bought Lightroom. I found a good one-day discount deal, but still, there's a hundred bucks down the toilet.

Lightroom is a little more fussy than some of the other photo organizers, in that it doesn't recognize PNG files. PNG files have pretty much replaced GIF images in Web design, are used all over the Web, and have the happy property of being able to be transparent, so if you want to stick a person in a presentation, you don't have to bring the background along with it.

Lightroom doesn't like PNG. Apparently, PNG doesn't handle metadata in a way that Lightroom considers robust enough, so if you have PNG images, well, you're just out of luck.

I don't need PNG images, but I do need transparent images. TIFF also supports transparent images and Lightroom supports TIFF. So I bought a couple of batch converter programs that convert from PNG to TIFF. For those of you keeping track, there went another hundred bucks, flushed away.

Can you see where this is going? Lightroom couldn't read the TIFFs produced by the conversion programs, although Photoshop could. But if I couldn't organize them in Lightroom, then I pretty much couldn't use Lightroom. And yes, I could convert the PNG images to transparent TIFFs in Photoshop, but even with some of Photoshop's batch settings, my desire to save time managing images was rapidly becoming a second full-time job (well, technically, it would be a fourth full-time job, but who's counting?).

And I haven't even talked about the curation process required to assign appropriate keywords, and so forth. We're not even there yet. That's another nightmare and lifetime of organizing, all on its own.

If you've been following along, you've figured out that Adobe's gift to professional photographers, Lightroom, couldn't cut the mustard with my project. Not only couldn't it handle vectors, it also couldn't handle PNGs or converted TIFFs.

Exit Lightroom, enter Bridge.

Bridge is the other "must-have" Adobe solution for managing files. The win with Bridge is that it can read all the different file formats, including the vector formats. Yay that.

But Bridge doesn't have a central database. Every time you enter a directory and want to see the images in it (or in its subdirectories), or search the images in it, Bridge does a new scan. I selected one collection of a mere 2500 photos and I tested Bridge on it. Ten minutes to do a scan. Leave the directory to look somewhere else and come back. Ten minutes again.

This, essentially, makes Bridge too slow to use. But the kicker was that Bridge won't show transparent PNGs as transparent.

It insists on putting a white background on them, so it's impossible, visually, to tell which PNGs are transparent, and which have a white background, unless you go ahead and open the image up in Photoshop -- which defeats the whole purpose of trying to use an organizer tool for quick image searches.

So where does this all leave me? Cranky. Very, very, very cranky.

Lightroom can't organize vectors, won't read PNGs, and won't understand converted transparent TIFFs. Bridge takes a lifetime to scan large directories of images (which is the whole point) and won't display transparent PNGs as transparent. The other photo organizers break in similar ways, and won't display vectors.

Worse, the curation process — trying to sort out, label, and keyword thousands upon thousands of images — is a job for a team of people over six months, not one lone professor working in the comfort of his home office.

I have to say that it astonishes me that there isn't a widely available solution to this. I'm flabbergasted (love that word!) that Adobe doesn't have just the perfect solution to this problem (beyond the somewhat anemic Bridge) because solving this sort of image management problem is at the heart of what Adobe does.

I'm also disappointed in the Web-based and enterprise-based solutions.

First, the barrier of entry is huge. There appears to be a disconnect between the needs of a professional designer with thousands of images and a large corporation buying an enterprise package.

Second, most of the Web gallery and enterprise solutions still use relatively primative upload dialogs and download buttons. There are very few solutions that will let you drag from a Web page into a desktop application, or to the desktop, and do it for a bunch of images, and those that do also seem to think the only type of image that exists is based on bitmaps.

Say what you will about cloud computing, the true, native desktop application is still better at some types of interaction.

So, I've given up on this project.

I have had two days until I need to start my next major series of PowerPoints, and I'll be doing them straight for about six weeks, so there's clearly no way I can solve this in two days. I'll probably spend a day doing a little disk file system housekeeping, but other than that, my search for media asset management is a complete bust.

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

UPDATE: Well, I haven't completely given up. I never really do when there's a problem to be solved. I'm working on a new approach. Rather than look for a good media asset management tool, I've decided to focus on super-charged file managers, and see which ones are available with good media extensions. I've been looking at one over the weekend and it shows promise. So, stay tuned. There's probably another article on this topic coming real soon now.

I still want a cookie.

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.