Connecting InDesign to Web-based Assets

For ten years I have been automating Adobe InDesign, and for 10 years I have had to deal with assets that were exclusively on the file system. InDesign won't generally let you link to an asset on the web.

File-based links in InDesign

When I first met InDesign, in 2000, I (like many users then and since) thought maybe URL-based assets would be a feature that was already part of this then-new product: wouldn't it be cool to work with web-based assets? But no, it wasn't part of the product, and such a feature wasn't necessarily essential to getting work done.

With InDesign and InDesign Server, by default, you just have to make sure things are in the right place on the file system. WebDAV offers a sort of linking to Web-based assets, but it is typically clunky and for the most part we put effort into moving files around and validating that they are in the right place when we automate InDesign Server.

Yet someone at Adobe understood the situation

In February, 2009 I went to cold New York City to attend the "Adobe InDesign and InDesign CS4 SDK Post-launch Developer Briefing." I was tired and almost slept, but I woke up when they said how the linking architecture had been fundamentally rewritten underneath, to support URI-based linking, two-way linking, and generally what looked like anything one would want to do with linking. I asked, immediately, "can this be scripted?" and was quite disappointed to find out that it not only required a plug-in to leverage any of this power, but there was quite a bit left to developers to create what one would imagine as a basic use of URI-based linking.

Still, I never forgot this, and recently we finally had a chance to build our own plug-in to exploit this underlying capability. After taking some time to figure out how to do this right at a low level, and thanks to some truly expert developers, and the fact that we were able to hire Michael Easter, it works!

HTTP-based Links in InDesign

Connecting InDesign to URL-based assets!

With what we are calling "Silicon Connector" we can interface InDesign with DAMs (so far Day CQ5 and MediaBeacon, but looking at others), Rendition Systems (Scene7), and generally any remote asset. We are working on specific implementations that already validate improvement in authoring workflows, but there are a wide range of possible use cases:

  • In OPI workflows, users can swap FPO assets with high-res assets more easily, from a selection for the entire document
  • Documents can connect to multiple DAMs or repositories when different sorts of content are in different places: the "gathering" process can be completely controlled from InDesign
  • Authentication of the rights to an asset can occur from within InDesign: a photo library could let users work with watermarked images, then calculate the document total for purchasing appropriate-sized images, and complete the transaction from within InDesign
  • Bi-directional linking has all sorts of possibilities, probably most are more cool than practical, yet some are probably quite useful

This capability compliments and enhances the CS Extensions that came out with InDesign CS5. We now have what we naively expected out of InDesign 1.0. Better late than never!

Seeing the range of possibilities and finding different visions and functional requirements of different DAM vendors and developers/users, I see now why Adobe left this capability so far under the hood. There is not a single generic approach that would work for everyone.