Digital Asset Management – Part 2

The concept and process of image management has been explored for centuries.  It can be traced back to logographic (picture based) writing.  Two categories emerged – pictographic and ideographic writing. With pictographic writing the picture stands for the actual object (fish = fish.)  With ideographic writing the picture represents an idea.  For example, a fish may represent fishing, water or food, for example.(1)   This concept developed into phonographic writing.  The symbol (phonogram) is now used to communicate the sound the object represents rather then the actual object.  Continuing with the fish example, the symbol is now combined with other symbols to make another word, such as, “official.”(2)   By using the sound a symbol represents, the number of symbols needed for written communication is greatly reduced,(3)  and thus becomes more efficient.

The process of written communication expanded with the invention of different materials.  Methods for communication were developed along with systems for recording and storing them based on need.  Early writing was used as a form of communication and records management.  As exploration opened up trade routes, filing systems emerged to handle the increasing business transactions.  Spindle files and pigeonhole files are two types of filing systems developed to fit the need.  The invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 15th century spearheaded an information explosion, as did the invention of the typewriter in the 1860’s.(4)   These machines disseminated an outpouring of information, and with that came the need for information retrieval (IR) systems.  Prior to the digital age, filing systems consisted primarily of alphabetical, numeric, and hierarchical (e.g., subject heading and classification scheme) systems.  It’s important to recognize no one filing system is right for every situation.  For example, numeric filing has its place, and can be consecutive or terminal.  Consecutive filing is efficient for filing checks or purchase orders;(5)  and terminal filing is desired when filing items with groups of numbers, such as social security numbers, whereby more than one person can access the file at a time.  The disadvantages include filing errors and the need for a secondary reference linking the number to the record identity is needed.  Subject filing may be the logical choice.  However, this method has its drawbacks.  They are, “difficult, time-consuming, and…tend to exhibit the eccentricities of the current and past keepers and are difficult to revise…”(6)

The invention of the computer in the mid 20th century, and later the World Wide Web, pushed the boundaries of managing information to the extreme.  The sheer volume of digital images and information being created in the second half of the 20th century as well as its projected future growth, gave birth to the need for new methods of image management and information retrieval (IR).  Mortimer Taube (1910 – 1965) was a pioneer in the field of IR.  He used the principles developed by George Bool in 1849 (known as Boolean Logic) to develop a concept, which others later developed into a process used in the digital environment today.(7)   This concept is known as, “Coordinate indexing.”  This concept is based on, “Uniterms” (which are individual terms selected by indexers to represent different facets of a document) and the use of Boolean logic in information retrieval.(8)   These, “Uniterms” are the forerunner of todays, “Keywords.”  Taube was a pioneer, but Hans Peter Luhn (1896 – 1964) actually created applications to be used in the computer environment.(9)   He created techniques such as, “full-text processing; hash codes; key word in context indexing (KWIC); auto indexing; automatic abstracting and the concept of dissemination of information (SDI).  It is important to note the basic operators Boole defined as they are critical to the functioning of what we know today as a, “Search engine.”  The operators are, “Or,” which increases a search, “And,” which narrows a search, and, “Not,” which removes unwanted results.(10)   George Boole was a mathematician.  Many of the computer algorithms used with search engines are based on his work but fall outside the scope of this paper.

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