Is it better to use deep descriptive folders or rely on Metadata? Taxonomy for DAM

stewart_oak Member, Cloudinary Staff Posts: 2
edited August 2022 in Digital Asset Management

I'd like to kick this off with the above question, and attempt to answer from my perspective. But one thing that's clear to me in the years of working with organisations of so many different shapes and sizes is that especially when it comes to DAM, there's no single answer. No one and only way of doing things.

Folders - What are you using them for?

In DAM I tend to narrow it down to 2 main considerations when deciding on the structure.

1) Permissions - if you can design the folder structure to align with the organisational divisions, it becomes much more intuitive for DAM admins to allocate permissions to each set of content. One of the popular options I see in Global enterprises is to start the home folder structure around regions of the world, and then each region can have editing rights in their own areas, whilst still being able to share out 'View and Download' access to their counterparts overseas. The decision to use this approach is also often driven by the way that different regions may have different products associated to them and perhaps different laws around copyrights and credits. Conversely, a travel company that deals with properties and holidays in many regions, countries and resorts around the world may well find that it makes more sense to store this information as structured metadata. It could make more sense if they have different teams working on themes like, 'Adventure holidays, Family Holidays, Package Holidays' etc to arrange folder content like that.

2) Browsing experience - another factor which often overlooks the first is that people tend to be used to finding things in folders, and you want to simulate a structure that is familiar. I like to think of it as 'inspiration-based' menu management. A sophisticated search feature is great when a user knows what they are looking for (or want to eat if we take the restaurant menu metaphor). But what if the user doesn't really know what they are looking for? A well designed menu gives a user a manageable number of first level options. Don't overwhelm the first choice people need to make with so many options that they don't remember the first ones by the time they scrolled down to the last. Try and keep to a 'normalised minimum' number of assets in each folder. If several subfolders only have 1-2 assets, consider a more general grouping.

The big trap to avoid though is replicating folder structures that were created when no metadata was being stored (in a legacy system or network drive). Inherited structures are often overly granular and can mean that a user has to click through multiple folders to find something they could have seen clearly much higher up in the structure.


When you have figured out your folder structure and addressed both the Permissions and Browsing Experience requirements for your organisation, you are free to cover every other way to enable the 'discoverability' with your Metadata Schema. Also, as there is no single right or wrong way - often the best method is the one that you all stick to. It's easy enough to re-work a folder structure once the content is there.