DAM vs DropBox vs Box vs CMS… Who needs a DAM?

“I have Dropbox or Box, or we keep files in our CMS. Why do I need a DAM?” That’s a fairly common question, so let’s use old-school analogies to explain this problem.

DropBox is like a really big file cabinet: you have a bunch of folders with hopefully clear names, arranged alphabetically, and when you need something in one of those folders, you better remember which folder it is in. Sure, you can search by filename, but if the file has a bunch of photos, you cannot search for the name of someone in one of the folders. As an example, you could have a folder called “2017 Brand Photography” but good luck finding the photo in that folder showing your CEO with the leadership team in the corporate offices (unless that is the filename: more likely it is DSC12345.jpg…).

Also, file cabinets are great if you have one or two, each with 4 drawers in it. But what happens if you have 80 cabinets? And what if it is ambiguous if the photo of the CEO is in the “2017 Brand Photography” folder, or the “Team” folder, or the “Offices” folder? How long will it take you to find it?

Permissions for folders are usually limited to just edit, or view/download. For individual objects you cannot even grant edit privileges. So your ability to control how people use things in DropBox is pretty limited.

Output is limited to download. If you need to watermark or resize an object, or change it from one file format to another, you have to open another program. That takes time.

Finally there is no access to metadata (outside of filenames). No directory book hanging on the outside of the first file cabinet where you can look up the location of every Uncle Henry picture.

A CMS (content management system) is like a construction work site. It holds the parts for a website that the designers and editors need at a specific moment in time. There might be some extra choices for the photo you want to use at the top of your home page, but CMS systems are not really designed to hang on to large quantities of component objects, just the bricks, lumber, cement, and nails you need right now (and sometimes you have to be sure the bricks are just the right size, and the right format). Tomorrow you will load in new objects for the new web pages you want to build. Access to the metadata of an object (the specs for the bricks, or the load bearing and treatment of the lumber) is generally extremely limited or non-existent at the worksite. It is awesome for building web pages (houses), because that is what it is designed for. What happened yesterday at the worksite though is hard to figure out, not to mention last month!

A DAM is like a huge online encyclopedia where every word, every footnote, every photo, every video on every page is instantly at your fingertips (searches typically take under a second). Every bit of metadata can be searched, as can date ranges, and even (using AI) things pictured in the photo but never described in text. You can control who sees any object or group of objects, and you have total granular control over what each person can, and cannot do with the objects they can see.

There is the past AND the future: you can tell exactly how something was used, its whole history, you can automate where it goes and if it gets watermarked or resized or gets converted to a different file format, and who asked for it and when they got it. And it holds any digital thing you can think of!
A DAM then is the place you go when file cabinets are just making your life miserable, and it is the place you order the materials from when you are working in a CMS. It is the huge resource that makes you fast and powerful!

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