The first time I heard the term Big Content, I thought “Oh brother, Are Web CMS and ECM vendors actually sticking the word 'Big' in front of 'Content' in an attempt to jump onto the Big Data bandwagon?” 

At the time, the people who used the term "Big Content" either talked about it in terms of content that went beyond their control (i.e. viral) and said that this was a highly desirable thing


they argued that "content" was growing at a rapid clip, and that Big Data technologies, such as Hadoop, were incapable of dealing with voluminous unstructured data -- that you needed something called "Big Content" to do that.

The latter might have made for an interesting argument, save one problem; Big Data technologies, and Hadoop in particular, can handle unstructured data just fine. Consider Hortonworks’ definition of Apache Hadoop,

Hadoop is an open source project from Apache that has evolved rapidly into a major technology movement. It has emerged as the best way to handle massive amounts of data, including not only structured data but also complex, unstructured data as well.”

One topic that wasn’t being discussed at the time was an Enterprise’s ability to manage all the different varieties of content that was aimed at different audiences across the ever-growingvariety of mobile and social media channels (including apps), but, even so, it didn’t seem that a new category of technology was needed to work with that.

So, I decided that Big Content was either about gaming SEOs (and it’s obvious that by simply mentioning the Kardashians you can do that) or that it was a strategy ECM and CMS vendors were experimenting with to make themselves look sexier to customers.

Now, mind you, I wasn’t sure that my conclusions were correct, but since almost no one was talking about "Big Content" -- consider that the LinkedIn "Big Content" group has less than 100 members -- I decided to backburner it for a while.

The "while" didn’t last very long because last October Gartner started talking about "Big Content."

Here’s part of what Craig Roth, vice president and service director for Gartner Research, in Burton Group's Collaboration and Content Strategies service, had to say in a blog post:

Big Data has much to offer to folks who are turned off by the word "data" and may pay more attention to its potential value if a subset of its techniques are thought of as Big Content.Just as Big Data uses Apache Hadoop (with MapReduce) to go beyond traditional BI, Big Content combines technologies to go beyond traditional search.These technologies are applied to text analytics, sentiment analysis, video analysis, semantic web technologies, and attention management.

For industries that care more about what people are saying rather than what meters are measuring, Big Content will become a big deal.”

Interesting, I thought. And since this was Gartner talking, it seemed to be safe to assume that people were listening. But his blog post didn’t seem to excite many readers; the subject never got sticky.

Rethinking Big Content

Earlier this month, Gartner began talking "Big Content" again. This time the pitch seems to be about augmenting Enterprise Content with public information.

Here’s what Darin Stewart, research director for Gartner in the Collaboration and Content Strategies service, wrote in a blog post:

Learning Opportunities

Enterprise owned and operated information is only part of the Big Content equation. The potential for insight and intelligence expands dramatically when enterprise information is augmented and enhanced with public information. Content from the social stream can be a direct line into the hearts and minds of customers. Blogs, tweets, comments and ratings are a reflection of the current state of public sentiment at any given point in time. More traditional web content such as news articles, product information and simple corporate informational web pages become an extension of internal research when tamed. More formal data sources are emerging in the public realm in the form of smart disclosure information from various areas of government in the US and Linked Open Data across the globe. All of these unstructured (and semi-structured) information sources become valuable extensions to enterprise information resources when approached in a Big Content manner.”

Revolutionary ...

So, maybe, this is worth thinking about, I decided, but the idea of Big Content being as revolutionary as Big Data still leaves me wide-eyed.

or Marketing Speak

To try to gain clarity, I asked Seth Grimes, a well-respected industry analyst who covers text analytics, sentiment analysis and analysis on the confluence of structured and unstructured data sources, if he had heard of "Big Content." He said that he had heard of it but that he didn’t pay it much mind.

“My reaction is that it’s an attempt to carve out a category for marketing and marketing analysis that doesn’t seem justified yet,” he said. "Content," he explained, "is one element in a much larger data picture in conjunction with every other Enterprise and Social element."

It seems that he took into consideration the very same thinking that Gartner did and came to a different conclusion.

What the Vendors Say

My next step was to talk to a variety of ECM / CMS vendors and to ask them if they had ever heard of "Big Content" and to ask them to define it. (One option I gave them, but that none of them took, was to say that categorizing "Big Content" was a bunch of malarkey.)

Here’s how they defined Big Content: (vendors presented in alphabetical order):

Acquia's CMO, Tom Wentworth

We are living in the Age of Digital Disruption. Within this context, a great story can become a powerful entity because the legacy boundaries of communication have been disrupted. In the Age of Digital Disruption a great story can -- by osmosis -- suddenly be everywhere. That's Big Content.”

Alfresco’s Director of Cloud Services, David Gildeh

Like Big Data, it’s not really a reference to size, it’s the ability to manage and make use of HUGE amounts of content (or data) easily.

For example, let’s say I'm working on marketing content that is going to be distributed on the web over multiple channels. Well I probably need a lot of content for that campaign, I also need it reformatted into different forms for each channel (i.e. mobile optimised web page or video versus desktop page or video) and I want to have all the data around that content, be it analytics and metadata, linked to that content. So now what was perhaps a few documents, images and videos, is now hundreds of different documents/images/videos optimized for each channel, and linked with a large amount of metadata/analytics.

The fact of the matter is, like Big Data, it’s impossible for humans to easily manage and make sense of all this content and data, so the technology is evolving to provide the tools that can do this at scale and make it managable for humans, so they can create and distribute content faster, and get new insights out of their content/metadata on how their content is being used." 

Bloomfire's CEO, Craig Malloy

If big data is a collection of large data sets so complex that it becomes difficult to process using traditional data processing applications, then big content is essentially a collection of content so large and complex that it becomes difficult to find meaning and actionable insights using traditional ECM and CMS. There is more to be found within big data than what these systems can provide. New technologies need to go beyond information sharing by enabling individuals to transfer knowledge, derive best practices, and discover new insights. Some ESN vendors are attempting to do this, connecting subject-matter experts who can collectively add context to content. Last year, McKinsey reported that most employees spend 30% of their day just looking for the information they need to do their jobs. Organizations that proactively seek out ways to transform information into knowledge and get it into the hands of their employees when they need it will have a clear advantage."

EMC Information Intelligence Group's Head of Marketing, Gautam Desai

Big Content typically refers to the massive propagation of a piece of content (typically marketing-related) to a large number of channels.For example a large marketing ad could appear in YouTube, corporate website, parts of it could be pulled and distributed in a video blog, shown on TV, etc.That piece of content gets big in reach and propagation.It’s a bit different than Big Data which is about the volume, velocity, and variety of data (which could be structured or unstructured).Though I believe in the concept of Big Content and the reality that content syndication and reuse in different channels and forms is growing in significant ways, I’m not sure that Big Content and Big Data are great 'apples to apples' terms.”

All of that being said, “Big Content” may or may not be the next big thing. What do you think? Maybe we’ll see what the Big Data experts think next.