The introduction of the web has allowed companies to build online presences and also spawned countless digital-native startups that leverage the power of code to run asset-light businesses. As companies take their online presences more seriously, the amount of digital content created continues to increase significantly and will continue to do so as everyone competes with each other over human attention.
This is where a Content Management System (CMS) comes into play. A CMS allows non-developers an easy and intuitive way to create and edit their online content, which saves time and lowers the technical hurdle so anyone can set up a functioning website. It also typically offers all-in-one solutions, specifically packaging services such as layout and design, SEO, and server-side functionality. Popular providers include WordPress, Drupal, and Django.
However, since they combine the content management and presentation layers, these are designed for one platform (such as a blog like this one), come in “canned offerings” and thus inherently limit customization. To develop engaging interfaces and superior user experiences, a lot of time needs to be spent on the non-core development work of managing infrastructure. Additionally, since traditional CMS’s are tied down to a particular presentation layer, significant development work is necessary to present content via multiple channels (such as tablets, mobile, IoT, etc).
Interestingly, the emerging API economy (see a16z’s great overview here), coupled with content creators’ more complex needs, is beginning to transform the CMS landscape. API-first content management is also referred to as “headless CMS” since it is only the content component, and does not focus on the presentation layer. It allows businesses to piece together various presentation layer building blocks while leveraging one instance of content (since they are effectively decoupled) to create a more functional online experience. This approach differs from classic CMS’s since the API-first approach focuses on managing content first and foremost, without tying it down to a particular display. It allows the user to group types of content together and deploy it in various formats seamlessly, almost like using puzzle pieces to create your own masterpiece for each type of medium you want to reach consumers through. In other words, the CMS provides an API to search, filter, and sort through content. On top of that API, the developer that the content creator partners with has increased flexibility to use whatever coding language they want in order to deliver the content through multiple mediums.
Summary of API-First CMS Advantages
- Content can be repurposed across multiple channels and formats easily
- More efficient content delivery process since developers and content creators can work simultaneously rather than sequentially
- Developers have greater flexibility to build the front-end in the language of their choosing and then integrate with the CMS via API
Ultimately, an API-first approach helps developers to deliver content to any application much more efficiently, no matter which language it is built in. Developers and content creators need tools that help them work better together more than ever, and an API-first approach seems well-suited to help them deliver on this front. Notable companies offering this approach to CMS include Contentful, Takeshape, Cosmic JS, Craft, and Kentico Cloud.