Offload Those Visual Assets and Watch Them Earn Their Keep

The report is due for next week’s department meeting, a theme requiring a fair amount of research to answer questions from the scientists, astronomers, and subject matter experts on the meeting roster. Following a string of 12-hour days, more than a few dead ends, and some last-minute tweaking, the slides are up to your standards. Interestingly, during your extensive research, astronomy images and other information, charts and tables were discovered from other sources which would have made previous presentations a lot more effective. However, there were licensing restrictions which limited access, a deadline to meet and limited funds for the project. Notwithstanding, you’re introduced, and you bring up your first PowerPoint slide.

Whether it’s government agencies, industry, research universities, or publishing, scientific research is a tedious chore, especially when proper citing of a source is required. Popular search engines have millions of images available at no cost to the everyday user, typically a bewildering array, unsorted and unsearchable. A common starting point, Google, contains the handy ‘Images’ link. Keying in a search term produces an avalanche of surprising photos, graphs, and tables related to the topic. Unfortunately, that interesting rendition of the moons of Jupiter, free to admire, contains the caveat, ‘images may be subject to copyright’, usually a lengthy permission process, possibly costly. University libraries, sources who have placed volumes of useful information on the internet, represent another frequent landing page for researchers. Most have search capability, where a word or phrase can be entered, but the user must learn whether those articles from 2011 are relevant or outdated. Meanwhile, noticing an area of their web page labeled, ‘format type’, the user clicks a link to ‘astronomical tables and graphs’. Subsequently, the succeeding web page requires a user ID and password, more time and effort.

Like many organizations, your visual assets may have started as a list, grown to a desktop database, merged with another relational database on your network, and contain metadata from all three forms. The unreliability of metadata rules is the most common cause of frustration among users, and a primary reason for users, willing to pay licensing fees, to avoid a website in the future. Conversely, when managed by a third-party platform, website visual content, augmented by consistent metadata, produces a steady source of revenue. There was a cost to produce and maintain that spectacular astronomical image, accordingly, make it findable and easy to license or sell, or just make it easier for your own users to access the organization’s visual assets.

Benefits of third-party hosting are evident in familiar offerings like ‘software as a service’ and ‘storage as a service’, concepts that feature metadata tagging services, reporting capabilities and project management tools. Typically, image files require gigabytes of space on a network, certainly bogging down performance and requiring lengthy backup procedures. Proprietary platform providers not only free up space for in-house networks but can also provide a source of revenue when clients can easily license or sell visual assets.