I guess we had workflow before smartphones, but it seems to me that the frequency of reading or hearing the term in professional discussions has doubled every year or so for the last decade. We have workflow in the newsroom, in master control, in production, in motion picture development and distribution, probably in every facet of our profession.
Of course, we had workflow before we had files, but we didn’t call it that. A station had procedures related to traffic, sales and master control, which today we would call workflow in the strictest sense. In technology, we had “system flow” diagrams, which represented the movement of signals through a plant, which I suppose could have been called workflow in some regards.
But file-based workflow is fundamentally different. For one thing, files are transported and used in quite different ways from baseband signals. They contain more elements — audio, video, and metadata — necessary to facilitate their use. Files are closer to videotape or film representations than they are to baseband SDI/HD-SDI streams, for they both live in a container (wrapper) and carry metadata on the “surface” — or, in the case of a tape, on the box — which allows one to understand what is in the container.
But unlike physical assets, files are only representations that can be best thought of as virtual assets. They represent no physical medium, and only when played out, reassembling the bits on screen, can they achieve the presentation of essence and associated metadata in a way that becomes a program. This creates a virtual workspace where files are processed and used to create content. This virtual workspace is where file-based workflow actually happens.