March 13, 2019
Content Matters Podcast: Headless Content Management with Deane Barker

As the Chief Strategy Officer at Blend Interactive and the author of the book Web Content Management: Systems, Features, and Best Practices, Deane Barker has extensive experience building websites and working with many different web content management systems. He's frequently asked to speak at industry events and is a well-known CMS industry analyst. 

In this podcast, we asked him about the market for headless content management and where he thinks content management is headed in the future. 

Read the summary or listen to the entire podcast below, or on iTunes. 

Defining Headless CMS

It's not a craze Barker said. It's not even the latest thing for content management. It's how we once built content management systems. Barker described a headless CMS as a content-focused repository that exposes a remote API to presentation tiers. It enables you to retrieve, search and manipulate content however you want. What makes it different from the way we once did it is that it's hosted, and it provides the content API. 

Advantages and Disadvantages

The advantages depend on who you ask, Barker said. But some say headless has a leanness to it. You can build your website with front-end frameworks like React, taking content directly from the repository. Consider display apps, IoT and how they could pull content directly as well. There are some that say raw calls to the repositories are better over a bloated CMS you don't need. 

The disadvantage is that some are using headless CMSs to avoid using a web content management system, which is counterproductive, Barker said, because they are just replicating a lot of the useful capabilities of a modern CMS. Barker said that, used for the right application, headless has a lot of advantages. 

Hybrid CMS: A Middle Ground?

A hybrid CMS offers both traditional and headless capabilities. Barker is a huge proponent of the hybrid approach, although he pointed out that many can't settle on what exactly to call it. But he is seeing all the traditional content management vendors beefing up and promoting a content API. 

In his experience, the Web is the dominant channel for many organizations (in North America), but they have other needs headless can support. Barker said that no vendor can lay claim to the word headless; it is remote access of managed content, and if your CMS can do that to some extent they can lay claim to the mantel of headless. 

Selling Headless to the CMO

It's a big challenge, Barker said. Some are proposing what Barker called "reflective value" - developers are saying it helps speed up development and increases the time to market because they don't have to deal with a big content management system. 

But there is no inherent value to CMOs Barker said. Headless doesn't provide marketing tools like personalization, and it's not big on WYSIWYG layout (headless has no concept of a page). 

Headless Vendors Adding Traditional Capabilities

Some headless CMS vendors are starting to add more front-end capabilities to their platforms. Barker said they are finding that to compete with bigger, more established CMSs they need to add on some traditional tools. 

Most of these tools are coming in the form of website builder add-on by either the headless vendor or a partner. Other capabilities include URL mappers, navigation, click to edit, and landing page builder. However, Barker doesn't see these headless vendors becoming just like traditional CMS vendors, even though the "line will get blurry." 

The Next Generation of Content Management

Barker thinks that someday we will look back at serving a web property from a single CMS as a little naïve. There is a great role for headless CMS - supporting a traditional CMS. The traditional CMS would provide marketing, page composition, and simpler and direct content management will be done in other content management systems, like a headless CMS will support simpler.  

The CMS will become a content provider management system - orchestrating and directing backend content providers (think DAM, video, virtual reality, technical docs, headless). Everything will come into the content provider system for the last mile of delivery. This is also what Forrester is calling agile CMS. 

When asked where the CMS will be in 10 years: 

  • Lower end CMS will be eaten up by packaged solutions 
  • Upper-end CMS will be become distributed CMS 
  • Middle tier will pretty much stay the same 

Why Does Content Matter?

Barker said content is the answer to a customer's question. It absolutely matters.