Harvard University DAM and Customizable Search Filters

 

Introduction

Education providers are often on the front lines of new ideas and groundbreaking concepts. At Harvard University, this has always been the case. In the Fall of 2013, Harvard University – Center for the Environment (HUCE) approached EnterMedia looking for a flexible, open source digital asset management (DAM) solution that could keep up with the growing demands of their students and faculty. Although the overall product was satisfying, the filtering feature did not meet the standard that Harvard desired in an ideal vendor. After six weeks of information exchange and collaboration, EnterMedia evolved its existing search filters to meet the high bar set by Harvard. With the new feature in place, the EnterMedia digital asset management solution and the team that supported it proved to meet the unique needs of university DAM clients. Harvard drew much of its inspiration for its desired outcome from existing e-commerce sites. As more of the general population interacts with these product-based search models, the expectation of similar functionality increases. In order to provide comparable characteristics, the feature would need to be customizable on the back end, while proving flexible and responsive on the front end.

Background

EnterMedia has been competing in the open source digital asset management arena for over six years. In years prior, EnterMedia operated as OpenEdit, a Content Management System product and service provider. The stability and flexibility of the source code has resulted in thousands customers worldwide who use it to manage modern files and metadata.
Unbeknownst to HUCE, EnterMedia was already being used by Harvard Business School for several years as a student video portal. Many advances in the software had been made as a result of that relationship, including improvements on scalability through the clustering feature, which allows the digital asset management workload and processes to be shared across multiple servers, supporting thousands of users. When asked for references, EnterMedia was able to introduce the right hand to the left, which provided an excellent internal reference for both the software and developers.
In addition to searching for a suitable product to meet their digital asset management needs, HUCE was also in the market for a team that could enhance the existing product and features to keep up with the expanding expectations of an increasingly tech savvy faculty. The decision makers had invested considerable time exploring the search features of other websites and discussing the needs of the local staff. It was essential that the selected solution would meet present and future needs.

“Our long-term vision for using the DAM in the Harvard environment is that it will serve as the backbone for an online platform that allows faculty to share, search, and archive their collective teaching resources across schools and departments. Such a resource would provide faculty with efficient access to high-quality teaching materials that have been vetted by their colleagues. Initially, our focus will be on engaging faculty whose teaching and research is related to energy and environment, but we are in contact with those members of the University administration in charge of campus digital initiatives. They are watching our particular DAM initiative with the thought that our efforts may eventually serve as a model for other groups around the University.” – Eric Simms, Educational Programs Manager, Center for the Environment, Harvard University.

The Challenge

Harvard agreed to a hosting trial for testing and training purposes. During this arrangement, EnterMedia was tasked with expanding the existing capability of the filters feature; acceptance of this enhancement would determine the future of the account.
In version 8.11R1, the filters feature was an extension of the File Type field. The field had special properties, and it could be linked with specific assets upon ingest based on file extension. Some clients had used custom scripts to add logic for dividing assets with identical extensions into separate File Type values. According to Harvard, the feature would need to be associated with alternate lists, or even multiple lists in the asset table.
On the surface, the features on competing websites looked simple enough, but on the code side, there were many different strategies being applied. EnterMedia needed to decide on the best path forward for the feature. The decision would need to please a potential client and set the standard for the future of the feature.

The Solution

EnterMedia started work immediately. The first task was to allow the use of multiple lists in the filters widget on the front end. Additional properties were added to the advanced options for fields in the asset table so that almost any field could be added to the filters list by an administrator. The second goal was to make the lists responsive to the other search features. Logic was added that updated the available filters to appropriately reflect the results in any search performed by a user.
The momentum created by the construction of the first pieces of this initiative led to more ideas which were discussed and mapped out into additional enhancements. New code was written to provide a numerical value for each of the filter fields. Based on this logic, a user could see how many results would remain if a specific filter was activated. After the click, the remaining filtering options would be adjusted to accurately indicate remaining assets, and a new number would be visible on each filter that was still relevant within the narrowed scope of available media.

Throughout the process, EnterMedia checked its progress with the Harvard team to make sure that the primary directives were kept in focus. As the deadline approached, constructive conversations provided feedback and the defining characteristics were locked in place. In the end, Harvard had access to filters that could pull from multiple lists and could be changed or expanded over time. On the user side, each search updated the suggested numbers and available options based on remaining results. EnterMedia also enhanced the feature to work in tandem with categories, renamed as courses.

“The willingness of EnterMedia to consider, and invest in, creative solutions for our specific project needs was a significant factor in our decision to choose them as our DAM vendor. We discovered that we needed to customize the existing search functions by creating advanced filter features, and our requests were well received and promptly addressed, with the expectation that the development of these features would also be useful to other EnterMedia clients. We were able to have multiple conversations with the EnterMedia support and development groups as our needs evolved, including a face-to-face meeting with a key developer that proved very useful in moving our project forward. Overall, we felt that EnterMedia would be more responsive than other vendors based on our initial interactions, and so far they have lived up to our expectations.” – Eric Simms, Educational Programs Manager, Center for the Environment, Harvard University.

Conclusion

After the new feature was unveiled, EnterMedia was selected as the official DAM provider for Harvard University Center for the Environment. The general product provided an intuitive look and feel, a flexible set of features, and a support staff that was eager to improve and support the software.

“Our evolving interests were ultimately defined by the following needs: 1) a platform that allowed a large number of potential users (i.e., upwards of several hundred), all of whom would be able to contribute content via limited administrative access, 2) a reasonable pricing structure that allowed for our user needs as defined in #1 above, 3) external hosting, 4) flexibility to customize the platform to meet some of our specific needs, and 5) an intuitive user-interface for uploading, searching, and previewing assets. At the end of our search we felt that EnterMedia offered the most promising solutions to many of our needs, and were very impressed with the level of personal attention and support we received throughout our extended vetting process.” – Eric Simms, Educational Programs Manager, Center for the Environment, Harvard University.
Working with Harvard and other educational service providers will continue to strengthen EnterMedia’s LearningMediaDB as the go to solution for University DAM. The ongoing collaboration process will ensure that features are always competitive with the market and relevant to the needs of students and faculty around the world. EnterMedia’s commitment to keeping the code open source will allow a broad spectrum of ideas and budgets to access the progress that is made in every new release.