Ten DAMs from the InDesign Out
Seven years ago, Silicon Publishing stumbled into an opportunity to connect Adobe InDesign to remote assets in a very powerful and efficient way. Through the work of our developers, several of whom were part of the original team that built InDesign, we were able to make a very direct connection from InDesign to remote assets via URLs. InDesign DAM Connectivity has become a significant part of our work.
While other approaches rely on technologies such as WebDAV, which is known for latency and headaches, our direct approach has proven itself to be far more efficient, and is now the way that most leading DAMs handle such connectivity. We have over 20 DAM partnerships so far, with more on the way.
This post talks about 10 of the Connectors we’ve built, specifically those with partners who also have booths at the upcoming DAM NY 2017 conference. They are in chronological order, and nothing here is intended to say that one is better than another, but simply to talk about the unique characteristics of each as we’ve seen them in the context of connectivity from the Creative Cloud applications.
Adobe Experience Manager Assets – Solid for the Enterprise
The very first Connector we created was for Day CQ, and it was while this effort was underway that Adobe acquired Day Software. It didn’t take long until CQ was renamed “Adobe Experience Manager” (“AEM”) and the asset management component of AEM became known as AEM Assets.
Our Silicon Connector for AEM 1.0 was InDesign-only, and it leveraged the AEM User Interface. You could drag and drop directly from AEM into InDesign, and with our plug-in installed it would instantiate a URL-based link.
We found AEM Assets to be a rock-solid DAM with great extensibility. It was convenient that the UI was already prepared for us: when you drag a rendition from the AEM User Interface, it puts the URL of the underlying asset on the clipboard: this is not the default for most DAMs we encountered. But Day had previously attempted a Connector-like technology and the UI worked (their connector did not, which we find a recurring theme among alternative solutions).
AEM is not for everyone: the DAM costs at least six figures, and it is typically either on-premise or hosted in Adobe’s Managed Services: this is great if you have unique requirements for customization, but not the economy-of-scale you find with cloud-only “one size fits all” solutions. If you can afford it, it can be quite nice, and we’ve seen some very successful large-scale on-premise deployments. One cool thing about AEM Assets is that it’s receiving ongoing attention and enhancement from Adobe: we see improvements with each version and an ambitious roadmap. This, along with steadily increasing demand for Silicon Connector for AEM, inspire us to follow suit. Our Silicon Connector for AEM 2.0 is going to be stunning, and already shows great promise.
MediaBeacon – Fine-grained access, metadata on steroids
MediaBeacon is one of the longest-running DAMs out there, and was our first big success with Connector. Originally created by legendary DAM genius Jason Bright, MediaBeacon was the second DAM we built a Connector for, and the product known as MediaBeacon Publishing is still used in MediaBeacon implementations. Since MediaBeacon was acquired by Esko, however, we are not sure exactly where MediaBeacon is headed as a DAM, nor in terms of how much we will help with connectivity.
Whatever happens with MediaBeacon, we will forever be thankful to Jason Bright for giving life to our Connector technology. Jason is a true visionary.
“DAM is the next desktop, the web is the computer, and we provide the vision.”
— Jason Bright
When we met Jason we were stunned by how he immediately understood, and appreciated, the Connector technology. In fact, he shared a proposal he had given to Adobe in 2006 that basically suggested a “Connector and then some.” Much of that vision was reflected in the first MediaBeacon Publishing application, which was first released in 2011.
Jason and MediaBeacon guided us to create a unique form of Connector that not only provided the rendition functionality we had implemented with AEM, but also offered some fine-grained access controls beyond what we’ve been asked to do for other DAMs. MediaBeacon now serves some of the most sophisticated ad agencies in the world, and they are very much concerned with access to assets, controlling this with a fanaticism we haven’t seen elsewhere.
Beyond what we have seen from the Connector/InDesign perspective, anyone who works with MediaBeacon will be impressed with their passion for metadata. Jason was one of the formative thought leaders in DAM technology at the time that technologies such as RDF and XMP took shape. His product is brilliantly focused on taxonomy and metadata, which is the foundation of robust faceted search and the holy grail of asset management systems. It is hard to imagine MediaBeacon without Jason’s 24/7 nurturing, but I know that he’s not the sole responsible party any more: when I saw him at DAM NY 2016, he looked like a plant that finally got some water, clearly enjoying a less “buck stops here” role in the product. Esko has started to make it different, we will see where MediaBeacon ends up.
Widen – The no-hype original cloud DAM
Widen is a cloud-based DAM company, perhaps the very first one. They have been in the prepress space forever, and they were hosting asset management solutions back in the 1990s; long before “SaaS” and “Cloud” entered the human vocabulary. Widen sought a Connector for their well-established cloud (lowercase) DAM in order to give their InDesign users direct access to assets over HTTP. We built a Silicon Connector for Widen that initially targeted just InDesign, using only the Widen user interface. Recently we updated this to have an in-application interface and basic support for Photoshop and Illustrator.
In working with Widen over the years, we have worked with their DAM and have been impressed by the very straightforward, direct approach. Like us, Widen came from a deep prepress background, so they understand the nature of the content housed in their DAM, as well as the range of use cases across a spectrum of industries. They are a very client-focused company and they are thorough when bringing product to market. The new Connector took a fair amount of time to complete, but it is solid. I really like the UI.
Widen is based in Madison, Wisconsin, and they have a midwest culture of honesty, hard work, and… wait, they don’t fit the DAM space! I might have been dreaming, but I could swear I saw the Widen team wearing “No BS” buttons at a DAM conference, and for anyone that is less than in love with the “Enterprise” side of Henry Stewart events (sometimes it seems that “Taxonomy”, “Data Governance” and “Faceted Search” are uttered and the DAM is now a 7-figure proposition), Widen is a healthy antidote. Straightforward, they do what they say, they have a refreshing level of integrity.
Widen has been good at explaining the benefits of Connector technology and one of their recent summaries is:
“Easily access images with our Adobe Creative Cloud Connector and get assets from DAM while working in your layouts.”
While Widen does offer an API/SDK, it appears that most users tend to use the out-of-the-box features, which appear to be very sensibly chosen. A typical AEM or MediaBeacon deployment takes time to plan and implement, and typically includes a high degree of customization. In contrast, Widen offers speed of implementation to those organizations who find the out-of-the-box features sufficient for their needs, and consequently enjoys an increasing array of partnerships and integrations.
The new Widen Adobe Creative Cloud Connector was just released in 2017 and we are really happy with it.
Webdam – Silicon Valley meets DAM
We met Webdam founder Jody Vandergriff back when Webdam was a small but growing company, and we were impressed by its driven nature; the way it felt more like a Silicon Valley startup than most DAMs that we’d encountered up to that time. They were growing, and yet they were growing really sensibly: they were recently acquired by Shutterstock, and that trend continues. We spoke for a few years before finally getting around to building a Connector, and it has been a very successful collaboration.
Webdam is cloud-based, naturally, and perhaps a bit web-centric in its approach to assets, but it is well-proven in print workflows nonetheless. We have also been impressed with their ideas for improving our Connector product. It was Webdam that first had us create an in-app interface, which lets users interact with the DAM from right within InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Since then this has become the norm for new Connectors. We’re thankful to Webdam for their continued innovation.
We have been very impressed with the Webdam APIs, which are publicly documented. In general, Webdam seems to value extensibility and ease of interface (here in Silicon Valley APIs are enjoying another renaissance), and they continue to evolve the product, recently announcing workflow functionality (as did Widen as well). Despite the Shutterstock acquisition, and Jody’s subsequent departure, they managed to retain relative autonomy from Shutterstock and have kept the same “start-up energy” that we encountered when they were much smaller. About the least disruptive acquisition I have witnessed.
We are currently working on further enhancements to the Webdam Connector for Adobe Creative Cloud.
Canto Flight – Light and easy
Canto has two DAM products, and it would be harder to find more opposite approaches to asset management. While we have spoken to the Cumulus team about a Connector for that older product, we were quick to build a Connector for Canto Flight. As Flight is a cloud-based DAM, the need for URL-based connectivity is quite obvious. Sometimes on-premise DAMs can make life tolerable for users who share a local network. This doesn’t happen in the cloud.
Flight instantly impressed us with its clean and simple user interface. As a really recent DAM, they didn’t have to worry about backwards compatibility; they’ve offered a nice modern web UI from inception.
So far, the Canto Flight InDesign Plugin (based on our Silicon Connector) is InDesign-only, and assets selected from their web interface can be dragged into InDesign to instantiate URL-based links. Like most of our Connectors, the Flight InDesign Plugin lets users toggle between high- and low-res versions of an asset through the Links panel. Canto Flight recently made a webinar about the Plugin here.
Canto Flight is one of the lighter-weight DAMs, very easy to use, low cost, with more robust features evolving over time. They tend to be more web-centric than print-centric, but as we’ve seen with other DAMs (AEM, for example, which was originally designed to support Web content management), as they mature they tend to see more print workflows, which is where InDesign is important.
DALIM – Steadily evolving European craftsmanship
DALIM is one of the older companies in this space, having been a major player in the print industry since 1985. I knew them the first couple decades from their TWiST software, which is sort of a Swiss army knife of imaging and PDF manipulation, used by many printers around the world. While TWiST was interesting to us from a pure imaging sense, their DAM (ES) became a basis to work together. We embarked on a DALIM Connector after meeting at DAM LA 2014.
DALIM’s ES DAM is used in many print workflows, and tends to be on-premise, though you can host it in your own cloud-based account. The core feature that they did before any other DAM was revision management: from right within InDesign you can click through all of the revisions of an asset, before selecting which one you want to use in your document.
We built the ES CC Connector to coincide with the launch of ES Version 5, so it is facing slow adoption, but it has been very thoroughly tested by integration partners, clients, and DALIM itself. So although the ES CC Connector is really newly on the market, it feels like a mature product.
I have visited DALIM in their home base in Kehl, Germany. They certainly have a deep perspective on technology and are thorough in their approach to software. There are many features in ES and they are based on broad experience with print production workflows. Yet they move forward with video, 3D, and HTML5.
Bynder – Rapid rethinking of cloud DAM
If DALIM is your astrophysicist uncle, Bynder is your nephew that runs a startup.
I recently traveled from DALIM’s headquarters to those of Bynder in Amsterdam, and I could hardly imagine two different sorts of company, though both have great DAMs they just approach everything in an opposite way. DALIM is on premise, Bynder is cloud-only, DALIM is 30+ years old, Bynder is a mere 3, and the cultures are just different. Bynder moves very quickly, and they certainly have momentum in the cloud DAM space.
The first thing we learned about Bynder when implementing their Bynder Creative Cloud Connector (which just came out in 2017) is that they don’t have a folder metaphor that is common with nearly every other DAM. Our base Connector, in fact, expects a folder metaphor as that’s all we saw with the first 14 Connectors we made. Then came Bynder…
Bynder has a “pure” approach to metadata where there is not a folder hierarchy, exactly: instead there is metadata on the asset and that’s the only way assets are searched or navigated. To filter results, you need to specify metadata of some sort: a category, a tag, a filename: you can’t just muddle through folders.
Because of this, the Bynder DAM was counter-intuitive to me the first time that I used it. Our team had trouble setting up our DAM instance, but we noticed many beautiful examples where Bynder had set up DAMs (or trained someone to set them up) and somebody had properly tagged the metadata. It is something like structured authoring used to be: “no pain, no gain.” A well set-up Bynder DAM is a wonderful, unique, experience from what we’ve generally seen, and Bynder is rapidly growing.
The Bynder Adobe Creative Cloud Connector is a unique from of Connector that has just been released, and no doubt we will be adding features as we get feedback and discover the trajectory of this energetic young company.
NetX – collaboration for creative teams, deep experience
We knew NetX long before we started having a Connector. They were one of the more InDesign-friendly DAMs from their early days, and we saw them in the context of InDesign workflows for companies we were helping with automation. In an on-premise context, we could work effectively with re-linking due to the unique identifiers they provided, and back in the days when they were known as “NetXposure” they seemed, sort of like MediaBeacon, to be a platform from which a decent solution could be built. Over time they have evolved into more of a plug-and-play product, and streamlined their name.
Because NetX has serious InDesign automation capabilities of their own, the Connector we gave them was just the low-level URL linking that is InDesign-specific. We successfully combined this with their pre-existing CC Extension, which has a really nice user interface.
NetX describes their Connector, InDesign CloudLink, well:
- Cloud Integration to InDesign – NetX based assets are placed directly into InDesign documents maintaining a link into the DAM.
- Security – CloudLink maintains permissions for assets.This ensures that the right people get the right assets at the right time.
- Powerful Search – Users can quickly find images using the power of their NetX DAM through search, metadata tags, saved searches, and collections.
- Image Update Notifications – Keep your linked images relevant with real time version updates. InDesign users will be notified any changes and can choose to update the image within InDesign.
NetX is both on-premise and cloud-based now, and they seem to be growing. We consider them to be one of the more print-capable DAM and a company that follows through with their solutions.
OpenText Media Manager – Traditional Enterprise DAM of choice
I have heard of OpenText Media Manager (“OTMM”) for years, and I’ve heard only good things about it: the only problem was the price. We rarely worked with any organization that could afford it. While they supposedly have a new cloud offering, the only implementations I know of are on-premise, and finally we got a chance to work with it when a major entertainment organization funded a Connector. We found good APIs and built a really great metadata-driven search interface inside of InDesign.
OTMM seems like a very solid DAM, but the organization is one of those large corporations that moves in mysterious ways. I was really surprised that OpenText bought Documentum, for example, but perhaps I just don’t understand that scale of business. If there is a downside to OTMM it’s the size of the company you’re dealing with. The successful OTMM solutions that we see tend to work out with the assistance of consultancies that really make it happen. Definitely a great core product that has made many large organizations happy, yet I wonder about their direction.
The OTMM feature I like most from our recently-completed Connector is the advanced search. Silicon Connector for OTMM offers saved searches, as well as multi-condition searches where the options are driven by flexible metadata (like the native OTMM search). Our Connector can save searches to the DAM that can then work in the OTMM UI, and saved searches from the OTMM UI load in our Connector. We also added Multi-select when we implemented the OTMM Connector. This is being added to all or nearly all other Connectors.
Stylelabs – PIM-centric asset management
StyleLabs’ Marketing ContentHub is our latest Connector, and initially will be InDesign-only, with the ContentHub UI providing asset search and navigation. I asked them “what differentiates Marketing ContentHub from other DAMs?” And they quickly responded “the fact that we’re not just a DAM”.
There are several tangents off of “Digital Asset Management” (for example: workflow, media asset management, and archival), and one of these is Product Information Management. There is definite overlap between PIMs and DAMs, and we see PIMs serving as DAMs or DAMs serving as PIMs frequently: few systems are really designed to do both. Marketing ContentHub is not exactly a pure PIM either, it’s more of a product content management system which may or may not replace a PIM. I would imagine it can be the PIM or work with a PIM, depending on requirements.
Our initial impression of Marketing ContentHub is that it offers a powerful bridge between Product Information and Asset Management. I will update this post as we learn more.
Other Connectors of Note
While these “Ten” happen to be preset at DAM NY this year, that is not to say that they are the only movers and shakers regarding Adobe connectivity.
Three very recent Connectors that we are really happy with are:
- MediaValet Adobe CC Connector, which has a User Interface that is absolutely unique. They are one of the companies most obsessive about UI, and there seems to be a method to their madness. MediaValet has a wonderful Microsoft Office Connector, and they recently announced in-app editing of Office documents, a first in the DAM space.
- The Libris Adobe Creative Cloud Connector, which started out rather photo-centric (Libris is an Enterprise offering from PhotoShelter): Libris is steadily evolving to support more document-centric workflows deeply, and it is fun to support this transition.
- The Alfresco CC Connector, which we built for a large publisher and have tuned to the needs of a real-world workflow and DAM customization typical of what we find in the Enterprise space. DAMs such as OpenText, AEM, and Alfresco tend to be customized, and in turn our Connector is sometimes not so “one-size-fits-all” when we deal with custom implementations with >500 users. Instead, we make the Enterprise Connectors extremely extensible.
Oops, now I see that Alfresco sponsored DAM NY 2017 at the last minute. This really should be “11 DAMs…” but it is late to rewrite the title and 10 is such a nice round number.
Conclusion – On it goes…
I think we’ve gone fairly wide with DAM Connectors, building 20 and likely to end up somewhere between 30 and 40 total, within a few years. Yet adding DAMs is less interesting as we run out of major names: rather than going wide we are getting more focused on going deep: some of our long-standing Connectors are in their 3rd or 4th incarnation. We have received fantastic feedback from the thousands of users we have worldwide, and it is starting to feel like we’ve just scratched the surface with features.
The UI inside of the Creative Cloud can interface with any DAM feature supported by the DAM’s APIs, so there are really no limits to what we can attain. In our other products, we support connectivity to data sources and web content from within InDesign, and this frontier has promise. It is likely we’ll see different types of integrations with our DAM partners around online design, database publishing, and InDesign automation, all of which benefit from URL-based asset connectivity.
It is an honor to see the evolution of this technology firsthand as it happens; I don’t think any of these DAMs will sit still, our perspective as of DAM NY 2018 is likely to change again.