Asset management

Lex’s post about photo management software got me thinking about that and I see it as an example of how digital asset management in general is changing.

Take iTunes as an example. It has a feature to allow it to manage your music for you, or you can do it manually. When I installed it for the first time back when I got my first iPod (a 1st gen 20 GB with an engraved message from my loving wife as a gift for our wedding in 2002!) I left the default setting which, at the time, was to allow iTunes to take care of the management side of things.

So, each CD I ripped was placed into a folder of iTunes’ choosing. After a while, I realised that iTunes’ idea of file management was not quite the same as mine, so I quickly disabled that feature and have since been taking care of it myself.

Right, so that’s the file management taken care of in terms of where and how it is stored on the hard disk. Next is the metadata. I can hit Ctrl + I to bring up the Get Info window in iTunes. From there I can adjust the tags as I please and it’s really easy to do. But, and here’s the kicker, this doesn’t amend the metadata of the files, rather it keeps all that info in an xml file. So, the xml file has to accompany the files, otherwise iTunes gets a bit shirty. And watch out if your xml file gets corrupted or you want do something like move your files. It took me a while to realise that the best thing to do was to map a drive letter for iTunes so that whatever changes are made to my system in the future, I know that all I need to do is map the letter I:/ on my system and iTunes is happy.

[update: I just tried amending the title field of an mp3 in iTunes and it seems that I was wrong; it does actually amend the file itself. Who knew?]

I prefer to use mp3tag to edit the metadata of my music files. It’s a fantastic program and is as easy to use as iTunes for editing tags.

And on the photo thing, once again, tagging is the feature that I’m looking for. And, again, it’s down to what takes care of the data management. Picasa is a great tool for managing photos, but is no good for tagging. Adobe Photoshop Album Starter is good for tagging, but is not quite as good as Picasa for photo editing and management. And, once again, from the limited time that I’ve used the Adobe one, it seems clear that it does not edit the files themselves, but probably uses an xml file in the same way that iTunes does.

And that’s what has got me thinking. Is it better to have the information embedded in the files themselves, or to use an iTunes/Adobe style of information management. I had always believed that the former method was the most effective, but I’m beginning to wonder now.

Gmail is a good example of how tagging can work. No longer do I need to have a strict hierarchical structure to store my e-mails to make them easy to find. I just add some tags, hit Archive and I’m done.

Desktop search (I use Copernic, but an old version as the latest would bring my XP system down) pretty much means that I no longer have to keep a tidy hierarchical system of filing. The metaphor of folders and files on the PC is, apparently, becoming obsolete. Rarely now do I hunt through many levels of folders to find content when all I need to is type some text into the Copernic box down on the task bar. I guess Vista will have desktop search integrated into the OS. And this affects bookmarks too: I don’t bookmark sites any more on my local system; I tag them.

But what do I do? Simply abandon my disciplined ways of storing files, emails, etc. and put my faith in tags and desktop search? I mean, at the end of the day, it’s all just 1s and 0s stored on a magnetic platter.

And how about those xml files? As I type, I’m watching iTag go through a directory of photos so I can tag them. It’s taking an unacceptably long time to create the thumbnails, but it might be worth it in the end as any tags I apply with that are actually written to the files (keywords in the IPTC tags). I just don’t know what I will use to take advantage of the tags in terms of filtering.

I’d be keen to hear what others think of tagging and the ways that digital asset management seems to be changing.