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Exploring the Pros and Cons: Folder-Based and Folderless DAM Platforms

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | May 24, 2023

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In today's rapidly evolving digital landscape, efficient and effective management of digital assets is crucial to the success of organizations across many different industries. As they strive to increase their productivity and streamline their workflows, some organizations are opting for a folderless digital asset management (DAM) platform rather than the traditional folder-based approach to DAM.

In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between folderless and traditional DAM platforms, highlighting the unique benefits of each and how they're shaping the future of digital asset management. This isn't a recommendation for one type of platform over the other. There are fantastic and not-so-fantastic solutions in both categories.

Core Differences Between Folderless and Traditional DAM Platforms

Traditional DAM platforms typically rely on hierarchical folder structures to organize digital assets. This method has been widely used for years and is likely familiar to all of us. Many people find the ability to organize similar assets together into folders and use those folders as the foundational tool to search for and share assets intuitive. Despite the simplicity of setting up and using this approach, it has limitations given how quickly content-driven workflows change and grow in today’s world.

Folderless DAM platforms, on the other hand, offer a more flexible, metadata-driven method to search for, organize, and distribute assets. In these systems, assets are automatically organized based on the metadata applied to each one and what an end-user is looking for at that moment. Implementing and maintaining a folderless DAM platform, especially if you have little to no existing metadata, takes time and can be more complex than relying on a folder structure as the foundation of your digital asset library.

Advantages of Folderless and Traditional DAM Platforms

For each type of DAM platform, the Stacks team identified one concept or word that sums up its benefits, as well as its limitations. We’ll expand on these ideas throughout this article. Keep in mind that while each type of system has its advantages and disadvantages, both are platforms that are part of a comprehensive DAM program, which requires oversight, governance, and management. No matter the type of platform you choose, you’ll still need a team available to maintain and grow it.

Traditional DAM platforms are great at…

Simplicity. There’s a reason this approach to digital asset management has been around for as long as it has: we all intuitively know how a folder structure works and how to navigate it. Why? Because it isn’t a technological concept. Our parents and grandparents had file cabinets they used to organize, search for, and quickly find and use their documents. Training end-users and stakeholders on how to use a traditional DAM platform is as easy as clearly documenting your folder structure and answering any questions they may have. There are best practices to keep in mind, however, which can be found in a separate article here.

The vast majority of “traditional” DAM platforms also facilitate processes that support more emergent concepts and workflows such as metadata-based search, user-, asset-, and folder-based permissions, data analytics, automation using artificial intelligence, integrations with other platforms, and rights management. Traditional platforms can be simple, to begin with, and then become more complex as an organization grows.

Folderless DAM Platforms are great at…

Flexibility. Folderless platforms base their ecosystem of features and workflows around metadata. Since metadata can be used in a number of different ways, the possibilities for automation, dynamic asset management, and ease of use are nearly endless. In fact, many metadata-based platforms are the foundation for “headless” DAM systems. In these, assets are automatically populated and updated in real-time in every system end-users deploy them on such as an organization’s PIM or CMS.

Even if you aren’t ready to go headless, folderless DAM platforms have other features your team can utilize to make complex workflows more efficient. These include dynamic search and collaboration tools, automated metadata tagging, asset linking, relationship management, and more. When it comes to these types of platforms, their capabilities are often limited only by your imagination (and your development budget).

Disadvantages of Folderless and Traditional DAM Platforms

The core disadvantage of traditional DAM platforms is their lack of flexibility. Folder structures, while far easier to understand and build than a custom metadata taxonomy, aren’t dynamic systems that can be quickly and easily changed and edited comprehensively. This is important because goals around content change regularly, and new channels and types of content emerge semi-annually. Change management for these types of platforms requires significant time and expertise to ensure things are handled the right way.

The core disadvantage of folderless DAM platforms is governance. The capabilities of metadata are very exciting, fresh, and easy to buy into. However, making those possibilities a reality and keeping a DAM program organized and easy for end-users to adopt, is easier said than done. Behind every successful folderless DAM platform is a robust, well-maintained, and organized metadata taxonomy that’s regularly changed and updated.

Folderless DAM users need to be highly skilled and detailed-oriented to ensure that the right content has the right metadata applied. Otherwise, all the beneficial features of the platform won’t work as intended. In these systems, your metadata can only take you as far as the time and energy you’re willing to spend building, applying, and maintaining it.


As organizations strive to stay competitive in our digital age, determining which type of DAM platform to implement presents an opportunity to increase their productivity, foster collaboration, and streamline workflows.

The future of digital asset management in a particular organization isn’t dependent on the type of platform it utilizes, but rather on its willingness to plan, govern, invest in, and grow its DAM program. If you need help determining what type of DAM platform is best suited for your organization, contact Stacks! We specialize in helping organizations from a wide variety of industries make this choice, while also serving as their DAM team throughout their entire digital asset management journey.

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