Silicon Connector Overview

It started with a naive InDesign user

Silicon Connector first saw the light of day in 2010, when we at Silicon Publishing were building a large-scale online editing solution for a major client. Our solution was based on Adobe InDesign and Adobe InDesign Server, which were brand-new to this tech-savvy and ambitious organization we were working with. Although the client instantly understood the superiority of InDesign for page rendition and output quality, they looked at InDesign with very fresh eyes and came up with a big feature request.

“These links are barbaric!” said their brilliant technology lead. “They go to the file system, not to URLs as a real link should in this day and age.”

“I know,” I replied. “But with the release of CS4 there was supposedly some URL-based linking built in under the hood, so I think we can make URL-based linking work.” Of course, it was not easy at all to make it work (doing so involved hiring half of the original InDesign team), but eventually we did make InDesign talk to URL-based assets. And now it does so better than any other technology in the world, by orders of magnitude.

The two dimensions of Connector

We proceeded to build a new Connector for DAM after DAM: Adobe Experience Manager, Box, Widen, WebDAM, Entermedia, Eyebase, Alfresco, Canto Flight... and we have not stopped building Connectors. Silicon Connector is now as popular with on-premise DAMs as with those in the Cloud, and enjoys thousands of users worldwide across more than 10 DAMs.

URL-based links from Adobe InDesign

The truly unique and most powerful aspect of Connector is found in its InDesign plugins. Built in C++, they enable low-level (and therefore much more efficient & optimized) URL-based linking. Just by using the C++ plugin, end-users can drag and drop assets from the DAM’s interface into Adobe InDesign, creating a URL-based link.

Connector URL Link

When the linked asset changes in the DAM, InDesign is aware of it. There is also powerful support for high-res/low-res workflows, in which the users can toggle single links (or all links) in the document between high-res and low-res versions of the assets.

In-app Navigation and Photoshop/Illustrator support

After deploying several InDesign-only Connectors, our customers demanded two important things: navigation of assets from right within InDesign, and Connector support for other Creative Cloud applications. Although the linking technology for the other CC applications is not as sophisticated as what we developed for InDesign, it does support asset navigation, as well as single-asset check-in and check-out from most Adobe Creative Cloud applications.

Connector in Adobe CC

This means that as of today, Connector offers Photoshop, Illustrator, Premiere and After Effects users a basic but expanding suite of functionality. In addition to the much deeper feature set of InDesign: a single install adds Connector to all supported Creative Cloud applications. The in-app navigation for CC Applications is built with CC Extension technology.

The three places Silicon Connector is a better approach

Certainly organizations worked with InDesign and DAMs long before Silicon Connector existed. Our company specializes in InDesign automation, so we were the ones writing scripts for many organizations using many different DAMs that did things like:

  • Move assets from place to place, downloading from remote/web servers or moving between servers on the network
  • Re-link when exchanging InDesign files or moving their associated assets
  • Validate that linked assets were actually present when assets were moved from location to location

Certainly there's always a way to make things work, and organizations can adapt to cumbersome, brittle workflow. But this all becomes so much easier with Connector. We see different advantages of Connector depending on the type of DAM and the way the DAM is used.

On-premise DAMs

The first two DAMs we encountered, Day Software and MediaBeacon, were on-premise. We have had thousands of Connector users with on-premise DAMs for many years, and while Cloud is steadily increasing in viability and usage, we

The advantage of Silicon Connector in the case of on-premise DAMs boils down to:

  • Management of URLs is more in line with the way the DAM itself conceives of assets
  • With a URL-based link, there is no re-linking required when moving InDesign files (which can otherwise be cumbersome, especially when moving between Mac and PC)
  • Remote users have far faster access with connector than with alternative approaches such as WebDAV

I remember when WebDAV first came out, and it seemed to have such great promise. I do not fully understand why it is so slow, but it truly fails to provide satisfactory speed and especially has issues as you scale. Connector does not need to navigate folders or interrogate file systems, the URL points straight to the asset. We have rescued several deployments from the latency and in some cases non-usability of WebDAV-based solutions.

Cloud DAMs

Cloud DAMs present very obvious challenges to InDesign workflows. If all users are on the same network and the assets on a network drive, the performance may be acceptable on premise. But Cloud DAMs almost require connector, as without it you are typically moving files around quite a bit.

Without and With Connector

We have seen demand from almost every significant cloud DAM and storage platform, and Box is a great example where Silicon Connector solved a very real challenge. From what we've heard, the two applications that frustrate users of cloud platforms the most are Microsoft Excel and Adobe InDesign. The reason: both use linking, and the linking is in both cases file-system-based. Moving files around and re-linking becomes a way of life, usually, without Connector. This wastes substantial time and introduces multiple copies of assets, wasting disk space and almost inviting error.

Cloud DAMs with Sync

Syncing files is one workaround, and this may work to an extent. However, it is far less than ideal. Why have a DAM in the first place, if users replicate the entire set of assets on their computers?

Beyond that, syncing in the real world also tends to introduce redundant copies of assets, and typically loses true synchronization of the assets. While with Connector you can point to assets in multiple locations in the DAM, if you are using a sync mechanism, you pretty much need to aggregate the assets referenced by your InDesign file into a single folder. With Silicon Connector, on the other hand, you can point to any number of different locations in your DAM, directly via URLs.

Single-source assets: an idea whose time has come

After 6 years, we finally see Connector taking off. It is wonderful to see our DAM partners explain it, and some of the best explanations of its benefits come from end users.

URL Links

This is quite a contrast to 6 years ago, when I would try to explain it and would get blank stares. "But InDesign already has links, doesn't it?" Perhaps the concept was too simple to be easily comprehended, or maybe we were just very bad at explaining it. But in the beginning there were only a few bright bulbs (such as MediaBeacon founder Jason Bright) who fully comprehended the value of such an approach. I am thankful the product survived to the point that it is established and correctly perceived as the best solution for connecting InDesign to DAM assets.