See the evolution of the CNN website over the last two decades. Content on the web for most people used to look like this or some variation of this. Frankly, most web content today resembles a slightly more sophisticated version of this, led by development in web design paradigms.
Of course, the ubiquity of mobile devices, especially smartphones and tablets in the 2000s led to increased consumption of content on these form factors – making it compulsory for publishers and content creators to make their sites and web pages responsive in design. Having said that, the fact remains that the development view is still largely ‘page-centric’ – making HTML pages we can view on web browsers.
When you look around today, we are exposed to dynamic editorial and marketing content in the form of mobile apps, AR/VR content, digital billboards and increasingly on Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices like smartwatches, Amazon Echo and Google Home.
This omni-channel landscape will only expand in its portfolio to include pretty much every touch point we have with the external consumer world (think “smart everything”).
This has led to brands and companies realize that the Content Management Systems (CMS) they have set up as a platform and spend good money annually on upgrading and maintaining may not be up to the task in delivering content seamlessly across these different channels. For e.g. when a company’s branded website is built using a particular CMS, it may not be as simple to distribute that content via native mobile apps.
What is a ‘Headless CMS’?
The headless Content Management System concept has organically gained prominence over the last few years as companies seek to be more agile in their operations and deliver omni-channel experiences by leveraging the same pool of developed content. It’s “headless” since such platforms unbundle the front end i.e. the head, used for creating/editing the content from the backend, used for displaying the content.
This approach is different from using a traditional CMS platform where creators and developers have to work within a framework with a fixed output – let’s say publishing web pages. So the site structure, design, templates and styling etc. fall under the purview of the CMS. A headless CMS provides the creating/editing interface and the workflows for facilitating collaboration. It stores the content in a “pure” format which can be consumed by different applications via REST based APIs.
By divorcing the content creation layer from the content presentation layer, the same content can be reused and distributed to different channels without the need for reshaping it to meet the needs of the specific channel.
As opposed to a headless CMS –
Contentful – One of the Many Contenders
One of the leading startups trying to enable companies in moving away from the monolithic structures of siloed content management is Contentful. With a microservices led approach and developer friendly APIs, it is helping companies and large institutions build sophisticated content rich application X times faster.
One of such Contentful customers is The British Museum.
Founded in 1753, with a vast collection of 8 million historical artifacts, it sees footfalls to the tune of 6 million visitors annually. In the era of interactive, immersive experiences, the storied institution has managed to be ahead of the curve in adopting best in class tech trends with a pretty lean team. It chose Contentful to power diverse digital experiences across multiple touch points.
Will Robinson, a former lead technologist at The British Museum states –
We have many different channels, from websites to audio guides and in-gallery technology, to an interactive tour utilizing the world’s largest Google Street View of an interior space. The scale and diversity of the Museum’s digital experiences simply exceeded the capabilities of traditional CMSes.
The ultimate goal is to evoke the same emotional and spiritual response visitors to the physical space get to experience in our virtual visitors, so they feel they too are experiencing it first hand
In the digital industrial revolution we are currently witnessing, software and digital content should rightfully be considered as the steam engine of growth for any enterprise. Modern Content Management Systems need to be nimble enough to withstand the rapid changes in the tech landscape and as sturdy as a kiln, molding content in any shape and form as desired by its creators.