What is a digital asset?

November 15, 2019

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Dan Devoe
Written By
Dan Devoe
Metadata, DAM

If you go online and visit any site you’ll see them. You’ll likely see thousands of them in just a few minutes. They are digital assets, and they are everywhere in our digital lives. Every image you see, every ad blasted your way, every document you can download, every video, every logo, they are all digital assets.

If you’re reading this, you most likely are interested in the types of digital assets used in common digital asset management applications. That means, photos, videos, documents, audio files, PowerPoint files, excel files, logos, design files, and other files most often used in everyday business.

For many people, the term “digital asset” is not the first thing that comes to mind for these types of content. They’re more likely to call something an image, or a video, or even just “a file.” All of these things have something in common, however, and “digital asset” encompasses their similarities. So what is it?


What is a digital asset?

Ralph Windsor, a leading digital asset management expert, defines a digital asset as “a collection of binary data which is self-contained, uniquely identifiable and has a value.”

This comprehensive definition covers all of the common types of creative content such as images, videos, logos, creative files, and documents, as well as other types of digital assets that go beyond these more common types.

Let’s break it down. There are four parts to that definition.

1. Binary data

These 1s and 0s of binary data are what make the thing digital. For a computer to understand it, it needs to be binary.

2. Self-contained

To be a digital asset it must be a complete unit. A random and partial string of code plucked from a website or piece of software is often not self-contained and wouldn’t qualify for this definition. Image files, videos, documents - all of these are self-contained units that can be stored and transferred.

3. Uniquely identifiable

If you can’t find it, you can’t use it, and it’s tough to call something an “asset” that you can’t find or use. For digital assets, making something identifiable is where metadata comes into play. Metadata is information about your information. It provides context to your files and makes them identifiable, searchable, and usable. That can start with just a file name, and can also include embedded metadata and other metadata that a digital asset management system may apply.

4. Has a value

To be an “asset,” that thing has to have value. The amount of that value depends on a number of factors including cost to create or license, the importance to the brand (for example, a logo is more important than a single lifestyle shot from a photo shoot), the goodwill it represents, and other factors. The company or organization who owns the asset is in the best position to assign some specific value. A fundamental part of an asset’s value is the ability to use it and re-use it. The photograph that got lost on a thumbdrive has a lot less value than the video file that has been shared thousands of times.

For your company or organization, all of your valuable digital content would be considered digital assets.

Digital assets and metadata

To make digital assets identifiable and valuable, metadata is critical. Metadata is data about data. It’s the information and context that allows you to find assets during a search and use them appropriately. To learn more about how metadata can help you organize, find, and use your assets, please read our two-part series on the basics of metadata. Part 1 covers definitions and history, and Part 2 teaches you how to use metadata in a digital asset management system.

Other digital assets

“Digital asset” also refers to the digital entities that have a specific financial value associated with them. The most common types of “digital assets” of this type are the various cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ethereum, NEO, Ripple, and thousands of others, including an upcoming and controversial offering from Facebook called Libra are all cryptocurrencies.

They all meet the same “digital asset” definition of being digital, self-contained, identifiable, and valuable, but how they are used is quite different than creative content “digital assets.” These differences between types of digital assets may increase confusion in the future so it’s important to understand that not all digital assets are the same and you should consider the context. If marketing and creative-related, it’s probably one type, but if talking about finance, it could be another type.

Managing digital assets

The value you can get from digital assets is only as good as your ability to effectively manage and use those assets. That’s where a digital asset management system can come in. It’s the best tool to keep your assets organized, make them findable by the people who need them, allow them to be used and reused, and also understand how your assets are used so you can make adjustments for new asset creation. There’s a lot that goes in to digital asset management and here are some guides on how to get started.

Understanding what your team needs.

Mapping the digital assets of your organization.

The best file types to use for each purpose.

Best practices for naming files.

How to set your goals for digital asset management.

How to meet and measure your goals.

How to manage users and permissions.

Metadata Part 1 - Definitions and history.

Metadata Part 2 - How to manage metadata in your DAM.


Photo from Alexander Sinn on Unsplash.

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