Sunday, October 3, 2010

#0044 Ten Essential Rules of File Naming 1-3

Previous:      Asset Management 101 –  part 2: Understanding File Classification

Asset Management 101
The Ten Essential Rules of File Naming
Ever sit at the computer wondering what to name a file? Who hasn't? In the world of CG-VFX, this moment of decision gives either life or death to your file system organization. Good asset management begins with a good name. The magic of naming things is to remember the basic rule – I Am What I AM.

What does it mean, “I Am What I AM?” For most people, this fundamental question is exactly why there is a moment of indecision about what to name a file – too often a user doen't really understand what a particular file IS. 
Remember, in my last article I explained that there are more than 14 broad categories for every asset. So what a file is comes from those 14 plus categories.

Except in some far-off alien world, most files have an extension, which takes care of the file data type. By the way, file data tyoe was deliberately not included in my list of 14 ways to classify an asset, precisely because I consider this an inherent classification. So, since the extension (almost) always provides the essential file data type information, let's continue to ignore file data type. 
Now, I'd like to share my 10 Essential Rules of File Naming. Today we look at the first three:

#1 Let it Speak

File or asset names work when they speak to you. Now, how can a name speak? Well, what I mean, is a good name will tell you lots of information about the asset. This is the core and this is the reason we need to consider the 14 classification systems. 
For example, often an asset name contains a shot number, some sort of revision number and often a frame number. (Frame or sequence position numbers, are also outside my classification systems, but they are clearly relevant and must be given proper attention to protect them from confusing your applications.)
We will come back to this later. For now, keep in mind that the main function of the asset name is to speed understanding and help bring the most important information forward.

#2 Make it Short

My first principle is a simple one: keep the name as short as possible. The old fashioned 8.3 naming rule was about as useful as used gum on a shoe, but names that are two long can cause problems. The first problem, is that names that are two long can eat-up name memory space in software that limits this sort of thing, which is common in older applications or legacy apps that still have an old-fashioned code base. What happens is that if the names are X length and you have N files, N*X can be too much. I've seen it in some apps' bins and in at least one OS. Another problem, is that a name that is too long could break a database program that assumes a file name of a maximum length for a data field. Too long and the name could get truncated, making it inaccurate or useless, or worse, the program could crash or not accept the entry. Even if the filename length is accepted, the display of the long filename could be a problem if using a spreadsheet or a data form with a fixed length of the name display. So, if designing a name space for your assets, consider your legacy applications' restrictions. (If designing an application, consider your users' name space needs.) The best reason to keep names short is you (and everyone else) will be typing them again, and again and again.

#3 Keep it Simple

Overly elaborate naming conventions suffer from several problems. First and most significant, users will forget the rules or disregard them. Also, an overly elaborate name may be too long, be difficult to read or contain characters that make your OS or applications choke.

While these first three rules may seem basic, they provide a foundation for all the rest.  We'll look at the next set in tomorrow's installment.
Next:            Asset Management 101 – part 4: Ten Essential Rules of File Naming 4-6