In 2016, a lot of hype was generated around the notion of “Headless CMS”. A year later, it is interesting to revisit this notion and to see what stuck and what didn’t, and what the future of this type of technology might look like. In this post, we will give a little context about the notion of headless CMS, and then illustrate how Jahia’s Digital Experience Manager (DX) and Marketing Factory products can already be used as Headless products.
What is a headless CMS ?
A headless CMS is similar to a regular CMS except that it does not have a front-end presentation layer (the head) and instead delivers content via an API. It focuses on storing and delivering the content and provides tools to create, edit and organize it.
I’d like to propose an extension of this concept - Headless Products - that may apply to any software you might use to build user facing solutions, and that are composed of a server backend that allows you to manage the content and other data related to the complete solution without directly relying on a built-in user facing UI.
Looking back, it seems like the Headless CMS definition was interesting, but in a lot of ways it was mostly a way to define something that a lot of CMS products could already offer: an API that decouples the content from the presentation. This is very useful for scenarios such as building native mobile applications that interface with a CMS, or single page applications (SPA) that will interact with content in more powerful ways that simply rendering content through a template.
Jahia’s Digital Experience Manager, is it headless ?
Digital Experience Platforms, such as Jahia's, encompass content, application and data. In that respect, it is fair to wonder, whether Jahia's DX is / could be headless.
When you look at the definition of a headless CMS, being able to access, manipulate and extract data directly through APIs, then Jahia’s DX product has been compliant with that definition since the day we introduced our REST API in January 2010. Since it was released, it gave you direct access to content objects, not only to read content, but also to create, modify or delete it. Our REST API was designed to be CRUD (Create, Read, Update and Delete) compliant from the start, giving full control over the underlying content store.
Editing and managing data can then be done through the back-end administration interfaces, that may be customized for different needs.
Despite being compatible with this definition, this doesn’t mean to say we don’t have anything to improve, and we will be working on perfecting the tooling for headless usage scenarios in upcoming versions of our CMS.
Of course Jahia’s DX product is to be considered like a “hybrid CMS”, that can be both headless and headful, depending on the usage scenarios. What is interesting is that this distinction doesn’t have to happen at planning time, this can be introduced at any point in time in the solution lifecycle.
Now for something completely new...
Headless for web personalization
One of the very interesting things about basing our Marketing Factory product on an open source server we contributed to Apache - Apache Unomi - is that from the start all the data collection, indexing, processing and reporting is done on a completely open and interoperable platform. As we are at the same time working on a specification for the APIs over at OASIS (the OASIS Context Server Technical Committee : https://www.oasis-open.org/committees/tc_home.php?wg_abbrev=cxs) , this guarantees that the API follows strict and well defined guidelines for tracking, personalization, A/B testing and privacy management. In essence, Apache Unomi is a customer data platform, managing all the data related to customers (aka users).
In much the same way that CMS’ may be headless, Marketing Factory may also be a Headless Digital Marketing tool, because it offer an API through Apache Unomi, but it also offers personalization and A/B testing APIs that are integrated with the headless CMS APIs.
Headless products are not just hype, they are mostly a new name for concepts that already existed but were not really pushed forward, because the market needs were not clearly identified. Rest assured (pun intended) that we at Jahia will continue to offer with our Digital Experience Platform offering, flexibility through Headless CMS capabilities and Headless Digital Marketing solutions.