Q&A: Content Infrastructure and the Future of the Web

Oct 22, 2018


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Article ImageYou know about content management and digital experience. But what about content infrastructure? As technology evolves, so does the language around content. EContent interviewed Sascha Konietzke, co-founder and CEO of Contentful. about content infrastructure, the latest evolution in how we deal with content, and how it's changing the web as we know it.

 

Q: Can you start by defining content management in your own words?

A: Content management is the practice of creating and publishing content, including various practices that support this creation and publishing process, such as workflows or search.

Content has been around for centuries, long before digital content existed. Currently, however, content management is mostly associated with the web content management systems that were born in the early 2000s. At that time, the whole world went online and websites became the business card for every company in the digital age. 

But managing this explosion of content on a website was hard, unless you had a savvy webmaster with technical skills. Instead of teaching business users HTML so they can fix a typo on your homepage directly, web content management systems were invented to give non-technical users the ability to manage a web presence through an easy-to-use interface.

Q: How does content infrastructure differ from that?

A: Today, businesses can no longer differentiate by having the best informational website with a few subpages (a “business card” on the web). An e-commerce storefront no longer has a nominal amount of revenue like in the early 2000s, it often is the primary mechanism to sell a company’s products.

To win in the market and not be overtaken by an Uber or Amazon, a company has to build software and new digital products, with content powering their digital experiences. 

But any new business venture brings uncertainty and risk. To be successful a company—even an enterprise—experimentation, adjusting direction based on customer feedback, and iteration are paramount.

Existing content management systems (CMSes) were never designed for these fast changes in direction, being powered by a monolithic architecture and heavy customization. 

Content infrastructure takes a more flexible approach. It’s architected to deliver content to any channel or digital product, and allows for frequent adjustment and iteration, by fitting into modern agile development practices.

Q: Where do digital experience platforms enter into this picture?

A: Digital Experience Platforms are suites that some vendors position as the turn-key solution to all your digital problems. Under the hood, these suites contain various acquired legacy products such as content management and e-commerce systems, which are badly integrated.

Luckily, analysts are beginning to see behind this facade and realize that innovative new digital products need to be created on top of best in class flexible components.

One-size-fits-all digital experience suites are no longer cutting it because they are restrictive, slow to evolve, and difficult to adapt to unique business needs. They are being replaced by modern stacks of best-in-breed services…

Q: If you're practicing content management right now, how do you transition to a content infrastructure mindset?

A: For a new digital product, rethink your technology stack, team setups, and processes; without replacing your legacy CMS.

Use content infrastructure and other modern cloud services to give your technology stack the underlying components needed to assemble a solution.

Create cross-functional agile teams (developers, product managers, analysts, marketers) that can iterate their way to success with short feedback cycles.

Treat your CMS as code, and apply modern continuous development and content operation processes.

After you have proven success in a first project, migrate more of your legacy content to the content infrastructure.

Q: Let's talk tech! Can existing content management systems get the job done for companies turning more toward content infrastructure? 

A: I don’t think so. Legacy CMSes typically come as monolithically architected systems with heavy customizations and lots of technical debt, forcing companies to compromise further by developing hacks and workarounds to meet their requirements. 

A small change easily breaks your whole setup, which is the opposite of what you want, as it hinders you from moving quickly when building a new digital product.

On top of technical issues, we often hear from our customers and agencies that modern developers, who you need to attract to be able to succeed in the digital age, hate working with these outdated tools. They often leave these companies as they see it as a career dead end, getting tired of continuously adding more layers of duct tape on the CMS.

Q: Would it be correct in today’s business environment to call content infrastructure “headless” management? 

A: No, although I understand where the “headless” term is coming from. We see content infrastructure as much more than chopping the presentation layer (“the head”) off an existing solution and bolting on an API. 

Content infrastructure provides capabilities beyond a CMS or even a headless CMS; it is like comparing modern cloud infrastructure like Amazon Web Services to running your own hardware in a traditional data center.

Content infrastructure is about formulating an entirely new way to build digital products with content at their core, by using best-in-breed components. 

Q: How will a shift toward content infrastructure change digital content as we know it?

A: Content creators and developers are bound by the limitations of traditional content management systems. In fact, many don’t realize how clunky a hurry-up-and-wait waterfall development process is until they see an agile process enabled by content infrastructure in action. Many of the world’s largest brands are embracing content infrastructure to gain its advantages of speed and flexibility. That means digital products will be more personalized, available on more platforms, and developed more rapidly. 


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