Tuesday, 3 November 2009

A DAM 2.0 user experience, please

Pretty much every Digital Asset Management system out there today have the features needed to ingest, annotate and store digital assets. Most systems also provide tons of different ways to add metadata and permissions. No doubt, all available systems provide asset owners the functionality needed to manage their digital assets in one way or the other. But today that's not enough. It's not just about the asset owner any longer.

This is what a typical DAM system presents to a regular user:



The user can either enter one or many search words into a search field or browse using some sort of taxonomy tree. 

This is however not Web 2.0 experience.

Two of the characteristics of Web 2.0 are rich user experience and user participation. Take a look at Amazon, iTunes Music Store och Wikipedia. Users today expect to be guided to other relevant material based on their searches. They also expect to be able to contribute by rating and commenting everything and everywhere because they've learned that this is a great way of adding value to other users. For instance, when I search for a song in iTunes I always look for user reviews and other recommended songs. These reviews and recommendations lets me discover other songs I otherwise might have missed. Let us call these reviews and recommendations ”filters” for future discussions.

Did you know that every single song in iTunes Music Store has in fact been sold at least once? That's really interesting because it wouldn't have happend without these filters. Have you ever looked at the thousands of assets managed by your DAM system? How many of them have been reused at least once? This is actually a very relevant question since the arguments for implementing a DAM system almost always include increased asset utilization and cost avoidance – for instance not having to recreate assets you can't find. Well, maybe you should take another look into your DAM system? If your assets aren't being reused, how can you tell that your DAM system is fulfilling it's purpose?

So, filters are important as they encourage users to venture down the long tail of assets in the system. This leads to increased asset utilization, but it's also important for another reason. It's simply great fun! One of the big challenges with implementing a DAM system is getting users to actually use the system. A key factor in this is the user interface. If it's perceived intuitive and easy to use, less training is required. If it also allows them to contribute and communicate with other users through comments, it could almost go viral.

Unfortunately most DAM systems today don't allow user contribution in this way. Some even have licensing models that prohibit it all together. In this aspect DAM systems are still very web 1.0, i.e. only the owner can modify the content. It's time to invite the end user to the table.

Okay, what do we need?

Step 1: Allow user authoring
I suggest:
  • Allow users to rate assets and have the system display the number of votes and average rating
  • Allow users to comment assets as well as comment other's comments
  • Allow users to tag assets by adding keywords. (Now I expect some of you might object? Allowing users to tag without guidelines and predefined lists of approved keywords? I say, why not? This could actually help reducing one of the most daunting tasks in DAM. Besides it's not new. In fact it even has a name - folksonomy)
Step 2: Add filter features
Now, what would these filters need to look like?
Imagine yourself searching for ”flower” in your DAM system. The system performs the search and displays the resulting 53 assets. Now, as any normal consumer you automatically ask yourself what the difference is between all these 53 assets? How can I group them? In what way can organise them to help me narrow my search? This is where filters should help you.

One type of filter are filters based on metadata. They can help you organise the asset by type, date and size. In fact the beta of Elvis seem to do this i a very nice way. In fact the best I've seen so far.




Elvis interface. Notice how you can filter by limiting the search result to kind. Also notice how the tags available to the images in the result are presented. The tag mexico is bigger because there are more images associated with that tag. Clicking on mexico narrows the search result to only those tagged with mexico

The other type of filter are filters based on user contributions. These are the ones you find in Amazon, iTunes etc. and the ones you typically don't find in most DAM systems. These filters should help you identify the assets recommended by the management, the asset not yet tagged and therefore possibly unique, the assets other users who entered this query liked etc.

Step 3: Make it all search- and sortable. 
This should be the easy part. Make it possible to search all user interactions. Search for all images rated by Johan, commented by Lisa etc. I would also like to search on user actions. It's perhaps a bit trickier to implement but it would be great to be able to search for images viewed by Johan, downloaded this week, most popular this week etc.

Step 4: Facilitate sharing
Almost every blog out there has functionality to make it easy for users to share a post. With sites like addthis.com and sharethis.com it's very easy to implement. Of course it should be just as easy to share an asset in the DAM system via Twitter, Facebook, e-mail etc.

Step 5: Create a stunning and super simple user interface
This is the really tricky part. I'd suggest hiring a highly skilled interface designer. If you don't agree take a look at this - Why Apple & Google win - and your company doesn't.
How many of the DAM systems out there today look like an Apple or Google product?

Last but not least. Why is this important?
The single most important reason for doing all this is that it will make DAM implementations much easier. It will reduce the need for user training and thus speed up the entire implementation process. It will also make it fun and it will ultimately help you fulfilling your goals faster.

What's the next step?
If you disagree or think I left something out, please add value to this by submitting your comments to this post.
If you agree, please forward this to the person responsible for your DAM system or even to your DAM vendor. Help spreading the word.

Thanks!

24 comments:

  1. These are all good ideas. I especially like the idea of having user-added tags (assuming that you can also implement "official" metadata records for consistency) and the call for simplicity in the interface. Right out of the box the DAM system should be fairly intuitive -- otherwise people won't use it as much as they should, which reduces its value and makes it even less likely that people will use it -- a vicious cycle.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I also believe that apart from the user interface itself and the search filter options, the performance of system interaction is crucial to the user. Waiting for results or filter options for ages is really disappointing.

    my personal 3
    - Performance & Scalability
    - Usability & Feature needs (vs. simple feature richness)
    - Integration possibilities

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Philip Good point regarding performance.
    I totally agree with you on that one.

    ReplyDelete
  4. One point I would like to make is that all these features should be taking into account the needs of the users and relevance to the target audience.

    For instance in a closed environment having using Twitter or Facebook doesn't make so much sense as a tool that allows groups of users to be collaborating together - if thats what they need.

    This understanding of the needs of the target audience and giving them the relevant tools is exactly what Apple and Google are better at doing than most.

    But I agree with the other points, but its what many people have been saying for years.

    And if the technology is correct, then the performance shouldn't be a problem - this is something that people don't mention about Apple and Google, they work on the design of something first, and make sure that the technology works to back it up even if it does mean going off the beaten-track.

    ReplyDelete
  5. The problem with generic Dam interfaces is that they have to match every possible use. iTunes was designed with a purpose: a music library.

    The answer to the question is that your Dam system should come without an interface, and should allow you to build custom snappy and modern interfaces (call it mashups) based on configurable and reusable components (e.g. taxonomy tree, tag cloud, result list / grid with sorting, recursive filter (iTunes), Share-it, rating module, basket, campaign, smart search, stored collection, etc)

    I am a bit biased, but there is a system out there that has a beautiful API that lets us, application designers, rapidly develop a smooth, modern, user-friendly interface. it's called ADAM.

    Tom De Ridder
    STYLELABS.com

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