By Dr. Marc M. Batschkus
The most robust metadata that you can have is the file name. It can travel through different operating systems and file systems. The file name is the only metadata that is available all the time. It is independent of any database, catalog, MAM system, application, or other mechanism that can keep or read metadata. This way, someone can instantly make sense of a file that gets isolated, left over, misplaced or transferred to another location.
Building a solid and intelligent naming convention for media files is crucial. Consistency is key for metadata. Metadata are a solid foundation for the workflow, searching and sharing files with other parties. The filename is the starting point.
Building a Filename
Elements of a filename should be ordered according to importance. When the date is important in a workflow, it can be put first.
All other elements should be ordered from the general to the specific:(date) (general category) (subcategory) (sub subcategory) (numbering) etc.
Not all operating systems and file systems support the same characters. It is wise to avoid those that are not cross-platform compatible.
This includes spaces (blanks) as well as / : * ? “ < > | [ ] & $
Blanks will be replaced by some operating systems for “%20” thus files using blanks become hard to read.
Blanks should be exchanged for “_” (underscore) and used to separate categories:
Any other fancy characters will also not be supported on some platforms and should be left out.
Copyright © and trademark TM also need to me avoided.
Use the hyphen “-“ to separate words within a category like here:
Some operating system are case sensitive. To avoid any conflicts and unwanted sorting, use lower case letters only.
If you want to use capitalising, there is an approach to this calling for “regular” use of upper and lower case letters. This improves readability of file names. Since consistency is key, if you choose this approach there should be clear rules what to capitalise.
Numbers, dates and sorting
If dates are important for production, it makes sense to include them in the filename. For sorting to work as expected, this needs to be done in the most robust and technical savvy format. If the date is at the beginning of the file name, you want to be able to use it for sorting according to date. This means you need to use the YEAR-MONTH-DAY format with the year in four digits:
for June 23, 2016.
For the same reason, numbers should always be used with leading zeros to support proper sorting and easier readability. Additionally, this avoids duplicate numbers.
Be generous with the number of digits for numbering, since this can not be re-done later. Six digits is probably a good choice for all, but the biggest production environments might need seven or even eight digits.
Build unique filenames! Unique filenames have many advantages. Within the workflow, each file can be easily identified. Sent to third parties, they can not confuse them with other files from you that might have identical filenames (like 10.jpg). Synching with other systems, as well as importing or exporting might be only possible with unique filenames.
Depending on the workflow, the date alone can make the filename unique. An additional time entry might be helpful if there are many files generated on the same day. This makes each filename unique.
Use HHMMSS in a 24-hour format:
1320 for 1.20pm
In multi-user environments, it might make sense to include the person creating the file in the filename like this:
For compatibility reasons, using extension with only three letters is best e.g:
- .tif instead of .tiff
- .aif instead of .aiff
Example of a sophisticated and flexible naming scheme for broadcast production:(prefix)_(program)_(name)_(version)_(date).(extension)
The prefix is used to mark the stage and type of media. Single letters or abbreviations can be used for the prefix:
- approved for broadcast
- production (=directory)
- editing project
- raw material
- live recording
- editing project: Natural Wonders
- name: Amazon
- Version 3
- of June 23, 2019
Of course, this scheme can be modified and expanded in any form to best suit specific production requirements.
To summarise, the file name offers an important part of metadata use in media production. Having an efficient naming scheme increases productivity and reduces errors. It even carries over to 3rd party service providers and anyone working with the files even years later.
This article first appeared in: Marc M. Batschkus. “Data Management, Backup and Archive for Media Professionals.” Marc M. Batschkus, 2016. iBooks.