Taxonomies for Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Taxonomies, with their origin in thesauri and library subject heading systems, have traditionally been associated with the tagging and retrieving of text content. The management and retrieval of multimedia content (images, video, audio, or other graphics files), on the other hand, has traditionally been served by metadata schema, reflecting the various attributes of the content, including digital rights. 

However, the features and uses of taxonomies and descriptive metadata have somewhat converged, now that faceted taxonomies have become common. A facet is an aspect or attribute, by which the user may limit, filter, or refine a search or initiate a search selection. (Several of my past blog posts discuss facets, including “Customizing Taxonomy Facets.”) 

Metadata for text content has become increasingly important to make it “structured” and easier to manage. Meanwhile, taxonomies, with their richness in topical detail, hierarchical structure, and synonyms, have become increasingly important in making multimedia content, especially digital assets, easier to identify and retrieve.

Why taxonomies for multimedia content and digital assets

There is considerable overlap between multimedia content and digital assets, although they are not identical. A digital asset is something that is created and stored in a digital form that has value. The word “asset” implies it has value. So, not everything that is in digital form is an asset. Creative works in digital form, whether by in-house producers or licensed, are considered digital assets. Multimedia content tends to have value, so it tends to be considered as digital assets. If it needs to be managed and made available for retrieval and reuse, it can probably be considered a digital asset. If it needs to be managed and made available for retrieval and reuse, then assigning metadata and taxonomy terms is probably important.

1. Growing volume of digital assets

The main reason to move beyond simple controlled lists of terms/values in metadata properties (such as Type, Location name, Location type, Event/Occasion, Person type, Season, etc.) and include relatively large topical taxonomies for digital assets is to provide the ability to better limit search results in large volumes of content. The number of digital assets owned or managed by organizations has grown immensely, as varied media sources have become more common, not just for brand content but also for marketing, instructional, and technical content. Limiting search results from only a few broad topic categories is often not sufficient, and too many digital assets are retrieved.

A taxonomy provides further granularity of subjects which a digital asset depicts or describes. A granular hierarchical taxonomy could provide the terms for a single metadata property, such as “Subject,” or there could detailed taxonomies in more than one metadata property, to also include “Activity,” “Product category,” or “Occasion,” depending on the use case.

2. Varied audience for digital assets and the use of synonyms

Another reason to use taxonomies for digital assets is to better suit a varied audience of users. While it is digital asset managers who rely on metadata to manage the digit assets, various other users need to find the same assets: product and brand managers, web content editors, art designers, partnership and licensing specialists, and perhaps even customers. Assets are most valuable when they have wider uses, but in order to be reused by different people and departments, a detailed taxonomy helps.

A taxonomy is not only more detailed than a list of a few categories, but it is also usually enriched with synonyms (also called alternative labels or variant terms). This way, different people who may describe the same thing by different names will find the same concept and its tagged content. For example, synonyms could be “Bridal” and “Wedding”; “Infant” and “Baby”; “Botanical” and “Plants”; “DIY” and “How to.” Internal users and external users often have different preferred names for things.

3. Connecting both text and multimedia content across the enterprise

Applying a taxonomy to tag digital assets can also allow digital assets to be retrieved along with other content, text content, in other content management systems (CSMs). This would require that the taxonomy be a centrally managed enterprise taxonomy, and not just a siloed taxonomy within a single DAM system, and that more than one system are connected to each other (such as through APIs or integrations) or that a dedicated front-end enterprise search application is linked to content in their source repositories.  

While users often look only for digital assets that they know are located within a specific DAM system, other times users want to conduct a more exhaustive search on a subject. While most images and videos are expected to be in the DAM, along with some PDF files, other PDF files, presentations, and documents, and even some images and videos from other sources may be located in other systems. Taxonomies that can be linked to each other or a single master taxonomy managed centrally in a dedicated taxonomy management system, such as PoolParty, serving as “middleware,” connected to the content in each of the systems, can enable comprehensive search and retrieval across the organization, especially if all the data is managed in a knowledge graph (explained in my last blog post “Knowledge Graphs and Taxonomies“).

Tagging multimedia content and digital assets

Finally, there is the tagging component of taxonomies. Digital asset managers must assign descriptive metadata to the assets they manage, which is not difficult if the controlled lists of available values is short. A taxonomy, however, may be large, so it can be a challenge to determine which subject terms to tag. 

For text-only content, the technologies of text analytics, including entity extraction and natural language processing, can be applied to enable auto-tagging. Image, video, and audio content had previously been considered unsuitable for auto-tagging, and thus unsuitable for large taxonomies, but this is no longer the case.

There are new technologies and methods to enable auto-tagging of digital assets. Audio-to-text technologies enable transcripts to be created from audio and video files, and these texts can automatically analyze and tagged. Improvements in image recognition technology can enable images to be auto-tagged for their subjects. Human review of auto-tagging is still recommended, but that’s easier than tagging from scratch.

Taxonomy is what powers DAM

DAM systems do support taxonomies, so you should not hold back from creating a suitable taxonomy for your DAM content. To learn more about creating taxonomies for digital assets, attend the session “Taxonomy is What Powers DAM” on September 14, 2023, at the HS Events DAM New York conference. I will join three other panelists to discuss taxonomies for digital asset management: what taxonomies are, how to develop a taxonomy, how to do research for a taxonomy, and how to manage a taxonomy, especially for DAM applications. Register with the code SPEAKER100 for $100 off.

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