The challenge of managing cross-platform content

There is a general problem in the content management world. The vast majority of popular CMS aren’t really content management systems, they are either blogging platforms or website building tools. Most of these existing tools impose a predefined structure of articles and pages on you. They have been built from the website backwards, which heavily couples them to the HTML presentation layer.

On one hand, this has the advantage of being a quick solution but, on the other, it locks your content into a jail. As Jeff Eaton describes it: "HTML is a language for describing content to browsers, not a language for describing the actual content".

But if not with HTML, how do we properly describe our content? What do you have to do to manage your content across platforms?

Structuring Content

As a first step, you must start before normal CMS’s. It is crucial to first create a content model where you define which kind of content you want to manage, how the content looks like in detail and what relationships exist between your content. You need to prepare to manage your content in chunks, small pieces of structured and reusable content, instead of blobs of content that have been entered into that big text field with HTML formatting (chunks vs blobs). Imposing more structure to your content and transforming it into smaller, malleable pieces, will free your content from the imposed presentation templates, thus enabling you to decide on how and where it is displayed.

Delivering content with an API

After you’ve added structure to your content, you must make sure that your content can be used in the most flexible manner. Even if it sounds technical and scary at first, you need to have an API as it allows you to distribute your content and makes your content truly free. By using an API, you guarantee full command over how and where your content is displayed. With the help of APIs your content can be delivered to all sorts of platforms and channels, from iPhones and Androids, fridges and Google Glasses to regular page-centric websites.

So to really manage your content across platforms, make sure that your content is structured properly and that your CMS supports structured content. An API for content delivery should be at the core of your CMS and not an afterthought.

At Contentful we’re working hard to implement this approach and provide an alternative to existing page-centric CMS.

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