In the last two weeks I have attended three very different conferences, with DAM as the common thread. The first was Media Pro Expo, where I spoke on a panel with the DAM Foundation, alongside Mark Davey, Madi Solomon, and David Lipsey. The second was Createasphere‘s first European DAM conference, and the third (co-located with the Createasphere event) was the SPAR Europe Conference on 3D Imaging and Data Management for Engineering, Construction, Manufacturing, and Security.

The contrast between Media Pro and SPAR, and their respective audiences, was striking, but so were the similarities of the problems they faced, such as the common need to manage rich media assets and huge volumes of data. Media Pro was aimed at marketing companies, and had lots of amusing exhibits showcasing ways of using technology to create engaging and entertaining campaigns. (I enjoyed playing with an interactive magazine cover linked to a camera that allowed you to put your picture “on the cover” and select your favourite headlines.) Marketing companies are concerned with keeping, curating and mining data not just about customers’ contact details, but also their likes, social connections, and shopping habits in order to create personalised campaigns, so they have become great consumers of metadata.

3D Imaging and Data Management

SPAR was all about scanning and mapping, not in the sense that I am familiar with, but literally surveying the Earth and making maps. There were companies that use lasers to create roadmaps, others that carry out aerial surveys, and some that create 3-D representations of buildings. There are systems for surveying and modelling building sites to make sure that construction avoids sewers, pipes, and underground cables, and even a system for creating 3-D photosets of crime scenes to help the police in investigation and evidence gathering.


At Createasphere I talked about managing metadata in complex information environments and how we need to treat metadata as content in its own right. There were a range of excellent and diverse presentations, covering topics from the potential of immersive virtual worlds and the huge volumes of data they produce, to descriptions of technical metadata exchange projects.

I began to think about the crossover point between the creativity and imagination of the media and marketing companies and the power and accuracy of the surveying companies and how this is going to bring about hugely powerful fantasy “Holodeck” worlds that will make Second Life and the Sims look quainter than the Mickey Mouse cartoons of the 1930s.

Better than the real world

One challenge for information professionals is to think about how we can create navigation and search systems that do more than just replicate the real-world paradigms we are used to at the moment – I am thinking of things like road signs and timetables – but how to harness the best of semantic techniques and data mining processes to create reactive intuitive worlds that work better than the real one. Ed Lantz of Vortex Immersion Media spoke of “intelligent spaces” that automatically access our data, our assets, information about us, and arrange themselves to suit us. How do we prepare for a world when the likes of Apple’s speech recognition system Siri aren’t genies in bottles, but are the environment around us? We used to worry about ghosts in the machine, but will we end up as the ghosts inside the machine? We worry about putting our assets out there into the cloud, but perhaps we should be thinking more about what it will be like when we step inside the cloud or bring the cloud into our homes?

There was a post circulating on Twitter recently describing the library of the future as a hellish place where characters from books come alive and stalk the readers in the rooms. It was somewhat derided as a childish joke, but if we create Holodecks and then try to live in them, it could well come true. The implicit warning it contains that we could inadvertently trap ourselves in such a hellish place where privacy, rights, control, and manipulation are so hidden from view that we lose our sense of self seems to be very mature and insightful. Another post I read was about how interface designers are currently working on “pictures under glass” and need to start to use the full tactile, haptic, and 360 degree expressivity of our physical bodies, such as we are beginning to with technologies like the Wii and Kinect.

Making work fun

Theresa Regli of the Real Story Group pointed out that the world we are in now is one in which people still don’t grasp the importance of labelling their images, so immersive virtual worlds seem a long way off, but she also talked of the need for corporate interfaces to embrace “gamification”, as employees are far more productive when their jobs are fun. It may take some time, but I like the idea of a Holodeck meeting room where people make presentations and collaborate on plans by dancing around, rather than sitting staidly at a table. Rather than the hellish library where AI brings fictional monsters to life, it might turn out to be a lot of fun and all that movement may even be good for our health!