Basic digital asset management
Armed with the fundamental concepts of the digital asset management and being somewhat in tune with what you’ll need out of a DAM solution, you’re ready to dig into the Adobe Experience Manager DAM. Adobe’s digital asset management system is a top-of-the-line product on its own. Consider that it’s completely integrated within a full-stack digital marketing platform and you’ve got one heck of a solution. After reading the rest of this chapter, you’ll have a better idea of just what the AEM DAM is and how you can use it to meet your specific needs. In some ways, the rest of the chapter details the first part, focused specifically on the actual functionality of the DAM.
Basic DAM functions
The user experience for DAM administrators is similar to that of content authors. The DAM is presented in a similar way, and actually shares quite a few of the interface elements of the website administration interface. Often I find that the lines between the DAM administrators and content authors are quite blurry, so the similar user interfaces are definitely a plus. Let’s dive into some of the basic functions of the DAM at a business-value level.
The DAM allows you to organize your digital assets in the same way you organize pages in the site admin interface. It uses the same hierarchical file structure approach, which allows DAM administrators to create an easy-to-understand taxonomy of assets. The DAM provides very nice features for searching assets, but DAM administrators should still take care to design and enforce a logical organizational structure. Your structure will also be very important if you choose to granularly define user permissions to different parts of your DAM (as you’ll learn in Chapter 12).
Figure 4.1 Managing a DAM hierarchy
One of the key parts of the DAM is the interface provided for editing assets. However, unlike editing text-based assets, you are actually editing the representation of a digital media file as it is stored in the DAM. You are not really editing the file itself, although you can perform some really basic tasks such as cropping or rotating images.
That said, we’ll still get into some ways that the DAM and some peripheral technologies make editing media files within the DAM extremely easy. When editing an asset, you have control over most of the asset properties and enhancements, such as metadata, dynamic renditions, tags, and so on.
When editing an asset, the most useful tool is the set of metadata fields that remains almost completely consistent across all assets, regardless of file format. This metadata represents a common abstraction of media assets that makes them searchable, usable, and organizable on a consistent basis. Think about the previous example of organizing photographs, video cassettes, receipts, and CDs. Imagine how much easier the organizing process would be if each one were placed in the same size box, with the same kind of label. That’s the idea behind the “asset” abstraction of these media files.
Editing the asset also lets you view the renditions and versions of the asset. Renditions are a set of instances of the media file that are automatically generated by AEM as the asset is created or dramatically changed. For example, changing images will automatically generate renditions of different sizes that represent various thumbnails. Editing videos will generate renditions that are actually image files representing the video itself. Renditions are preconfigured to generate via a workflow, but they can be customized.
Versions are stored snapshots in time of the changes made to a DAM asset. One really easy way to see how snapshots are used is by editing an image in the DAM and rotating it. This edit actually changes the underlying image and rebuilds all the renditions, but it also creates a new version to represent the significant change. Versions can be restored much like restoring page versions.
Figure 4.2 Editing DAM metadata
The DAM makes searching for assets stored within it extremely easy. If you have only 30 or 40 assets, the search function isn’t that useful. But, when you have 15,000 assets, manually drilling down through folders is not a realistic way to locate a specific file. A faceted search feature allows you to find assets based on metadata, general location, tags, and file type. The search also can be extended and customized, with help from your solution partner.
Also helpful is the ability to view an asset’s references. Remember that a page’s references are a list of other pages that link to it, and would be affected if that page were moved or deleted. The DAM applies the same approach to digital assets. It identifies every location within the platform where that asset is used. Therefore, as you edit or remove the asset, you can know every webpage you are potentially affecting.
Figure 4.3 Searching for DAM assets
The content finder (the frame along the left edge of the screen) enables content authors to bring DAM assets into the webpage. The content finder is organized by file type, but also has a view in which the author can drill down into the DAM’s hierarchy to locate an asset. The content finder also accesses the DAM search to help authors find assets faster. As a content author, you will spend quite a bit of time with the content finder.
Figure 4.4 The content finder
Other basic features
The DAM also provides DAM administrators some other basic features for managing websites. Assets can be activated and deactivated in the same way as pages. Consider an asset’s references when deactivating, though, to ensure that you aren’t removing images being used on a live site. In addition to the automatic rendition workflows, DAM administrators can also apply workflows to assets as desired, which is helpful for approvals and external integrations.
The Adobe Experience Manager DAM uses the extensible metadata platform (XMP) standard for encoding metadata within digital media files, a standard originally spearheaded by Adobe. It provides a common way to define metadata regardless of file type, without restricting the metadata to any specific taxonomy, which means the metadata can be universally understood, but the properties of a particular file type needn’t completely align with the properties of another. All Adobe products use the XMP standard when applying metadata to assets.
In practice, the DAM becomes a nice interface for configuring the metadata of digital media assets regardless of format. In fact, under the hood, when setting the metadata of a DAM asset, AEM actually changes the metadata of the original binary file that was used to create that DAM asset (remember, a DAM asset is just an abstraction of that file). So, when using the DAM as a tool for web content management, your assets are more searchable and more semantically cataloged. However, because the metadata applied is based on a standard, if the DAM is used to distribute assets for more than web content concerns, the metadata can be used by any system that consumes the asset.
When a DAM administrator edits an asset in the DAM, the Title, Description, Creator, and other fields are all used to set the metadata of that asset. Those fields are generally standardized for all types of DAM assets you can work with. XMP does support extending the metadata vocabulary for specific file types, but this is not something DAM administrators can just do at will. Maintaining a consistent, well-thought-out taxonomy is critical if the metadata is to provide any value. Therefore, the extensibility of DAM metadata is limited to a specific process that must be implemented by a developer. If you think you need additional metadata, work with your solution partner to understand whether you really need this capability and then determine the best way to implement it.
Two DAM-related content components can be added to webpages: Asset Share and the Asset Editor. These components provide specific functionality for exposing the DAM to the public. Like many components in AEM, these are largely intended as a starting points or examples, although they are fully functional and can be used on live sites.
It’s a use case for the DAM that is a little less common than web content management support, but the DAM can be used as a central repository for assets that are provided to external parties. Along with the explanation of both of these components, I provide a high-level example use case that describes why you might use it.
The Asset Share is a set of components used for authoring an easy-to-use faceted search for digital assets. Internally, AEM provides robust functionality for searching for DAM assets, but what if you want to expose that functionality to people who won’t have access to the AEM interface? The Asset Share consists of a few parts:
- Asset Share page component, which can be extended to create your own custom page component and template
- Query builder component, which allows users to create search queries for DAM assets
- A set of search facet components for filtering results by specific attributes
- A set of “lens” components for a content author to specify views that define the search results
The Asset Share also contains a set of components, called actions, that can be added to the page to define what an end user can do to interact with the DAM. The Adobe documentation describes how to configure the parts of an Asset Share. It also describes how content authors can define a complex search interface without any developer intervention (after the page component and styling are defined).
The Asset Share component exposes facets of the DAM to the public—for example, if you were building a portal in which your organization’s partners could access the creative assets that represent your brand.
As a large organization, you may work with dozens of marketing agencies, advertising partners, or media organizations. You could have a team responsible for working with those external stakeholders to organize and retrieve the media as necessary, but that would be expensive and labor intensive. You could give those people access to the AEM DAM, but with obvious security challenges.
Or, you could build a portal where those external stakeholders can independently search for and retrieve media assets. Permissions for that portal can define what outsiders can and cannot do, and enables you to build a fully branded user experience. The Asset Share would be at the core of such a solution.
The Asset Editor, like the Asset Share, is a set of components that exposes the DAM asset editing functionality to public users. It enables site visitors to edit metadata, tag assets, customize thumbnails, and manipulate other aspects of digital assets. The Asset Editor can also be used to display a detailed, non-editable view of assets to provide more info to site visitors before they download assets. Once a page component is defined and styled, this experience is completely configurable by a content author. She can make changes that would otherwise require a programmer. The Asset Editor contains the following components:
- Asset Editor page component, which can be extended to create your own custom page component and template
- Metadata form components for viewing or editing the metadata of a DAM asset
- Components for viewing sub-assets and thumbnails of a DAM asset
Like the Asset Share, it also contains a set of Actions components that display no user interface element, but define which tasks can be performed by end users.
If your content team is relatively small, providing and managing their access to the DAM interface within AEM isn’t a big deal. But, what if you have hundreds of people who may be editing DAM assets? What if DAM asset manipulation is just one of many tasks those people perform that may not necessarily be part of logging into AEM?
You could use AEM to build a portal application that exposes DAM asset editing via the Asset Editor. It would enable your content team to author a web experience for interacting with the DAM without actually providing login access to the DAM. This is especially useful when you need to provide access to external stakeholders who may not have direct access to your internal AEM servers.
Beyond web content management
The Adobe Experience Manager DAM is most often used to support web content management by providing the foundation for managing digital media files to be used within the web experience. But the DAM was originally designed as a stand-alone digital asset management solution that can be used independently of the content management parts of the platform. It truly is a full-featured DAM that can be applied to a variety of use cases.
This book is primarily about AEM’s web experience management features, so I don’t dig into this any further. But, if you are using the DAM according to best practice to empower your web experience, you are already positioned to expose the DAM’s functionality for other uses. You can discuss those options with a solution implementation partner.