Bright IT is on about to celebrate three years of partnership with Contentful. In this time we have observed the tremendous development of Contentful, particularly the ever-growing fan and user base. And still you may wonder, what makes Contentful stand out among other software companies? What is it like to work with them as a partner or customer and what are our experiences with their content platform? These are the key questions we aim to answer in our guest blog post. But first…
Who are we?
We’re Bright IT. We are technology and marketing experts who combine the skills of IT service providers and digital agencies into a well-coordinated team. We work with companies of many industries and sizes, mainly from the DACH region, on successful and modern websites, web apps and online shops.
Contentful is among the most favorite content management solutions that we regularly offer to our clients (such as Swarovski Optik). We practice what we preach, so it won’t surprise you to learn that our own website is also powered by Contentful. Last but not least, we are also launching an app on the Contentful Marketplace — but more about that later.
What we think about Contentful as a software vendor
To fairly evaluate a software vendor, it helps to first identify what bothers you about bad ones.
Many of them plan on a technical feature level and typically give the highest priority to the best-paying ones — mostly based on client feedback, or even more simply, by following requests from specific clients.That often leads to product development that we would label as “organic” and results in software that becomes more and more bloated with features that are highly specific in scope.
These features, of course, are distracting for clients that don't need them, and overall they make the platform harder and harder to adjust to client specific requirements, to upgrade and ultimately also difficult to remove (which may very well be intentional).
The kind of limits and legacy support introduced by such features become a constant and growing problem — and in our experience, this is not at all how you should evolve a software product in the long run.
1. A clear vision
Contentful is different in this regard: It has defined a clear vision which it questions and updates in a structured manner — and new feature development follows it without exception.
Of course, the folks at Contentful listen to client feedback too, but they double-check how it fits into their overall vision and how they can react to market demands in a way that continues to be a good fit for all of their clients.
Platform development is driven by that and not by the loudest and best-paying customer demanding highly specific feature extensions.
2. A diverse team
Contentful has a large and very diverse team. That demands — but also helps with — maintaining a clear vision of who they are and what they do. A diverse team (cultural background, geography, or tech/marketing focus) brings a wide range of perspectives and prevents you from planning from within your own bubble. Contentful is a global player in a diverse market.
Traditional software vendors tend to have a split between product development and sales teams. Often, this leads to empty or even false promises made by sales. And if you don’t believe us, maybe you’d like to hear it from Steve Jobs instead. With Contentful, we feel like everyone is on the same page.
"Contentful does not overpromise to partners and users thanks to their excellent roadmap planning."
3. A reliable technology partner
Here is a key takeaway from our own software engineers about working with Contentful: When the folks at Contentful do something, they do it properly.
Their communication style is down-to-earth, collaborative, and supportive, which helps in being honest and open with our joint clients. They do not overpromise to partners and users, thanks to their excellent roadmap planning.
To illustrate that, when a new feature is being added to the roadmap, they have a realistic expectation of when to roll it out to the users. And they only promise a new feature when they are sure that they can deliver it on time. Our head of development, Tomasz Struminski, is very fond of that approach and it couldn’t be a closer match with our own thinking.
Also, Contentful works toward long-term goals. Since it is a well-organized organization with great partner management, it makes them a very reliable partner to work with.
Our take on Contentful as a platform
Now that we are done talking about Contentful as an organization, let’s have a look at them as a SaaS solution.
As mentioned earlier, we not only offer Contentful as a content management solution to our clients where it's a good fit, but we also use it to run our own website. Here’s why:
The solution is easy to grasp and gives you coverage over a wide range of use cases, not just websites.
The platform is highly available and reliable.
Users quickly start being productive without lengthy onboarding and training.
The platform is built for extensibility and customization — in a controlled manner. The folks at Contentful add new features cautiously, as not to bloat the platform with rarely used features.
Contentful is a content platform that is user-friendly for both business users and developers. Let’s take a closer look at what that means.
1. Easy to work with for business users
What sets Contentful apart from a traditional or legacy CMS is that it is strictly focused on the content itself and not the front end that renders content display.
Content elements are added to the data repository as modular content entries. From there, these entries can be embedded into various front-end environments, such as web pages, mobile apps, smartwatches, print, digital advertising ecosystems, out-of-home displays or any other current or future display type you can think of. Your imagination truly is the limit.
Another benefit of structuring your content in a modular way: When you need to replace, remove or change entries, you do it once, and the entry is updated everywhere it is used. And this can be done in bulk and automated. This massively reduces the risk of breaking the system and keeps the content display in sync: no dead links, no outdated content, no inconsistencies.
One example: Contentful has excellent out-of-the-box media handling for images. Instead of using an external tool to adapt images for different displays, you can do it all in Contentful. You only need to upload one image for several use cases to Contentful instead of uploading a separate image for each use case.
As you can see, you can save a lot of time updating content, be it text or images.
"Contentful offers editors a consistent editorial experience."
What we also like is that users operate in a controlled environment. That means that customizations have a clear scope, and users do not get lost in a marketplace with tons of extensions that all try to address the same issue — or even worse, with client-specific customization built by partners. In our experience, the latter is a very common scenario in most, if not all, legacy software platforms.
All in all, Contentful offers editors a consistent editorial experience. As mentioned above, the onboarding of new users is easy. Thanks to features such as Single Sign-On (SSO), user roles, and permissions, it is also suitable for large enterprises.
2. And for developers, too
Our software engineers like that Contentful is a true API-first solution. That means everything that is available in the UI is fully implemented in the API as well. Also, the platform is built from scratch as a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solution. It’s not a monolithic on-premise CMS that pretends to be a cloud solution.
Our software engineers also love Contentful for how easily it is to work with content — thanks to a powerful, modern querying language (GraphQL) that also isn’t proprietary to Contentful. It also can respond very quickly to even complex queries on your content.
"Developers love Contentful for ease of work with content."
There are a few other things that our software engineers like. There are tools to programmatically migrate content and environments. Environments are copies of your content which you can create with the click of a button, that are usually ready for you in just a few seconds. Combined with migration tooling, Contentful is a powerful tool for experimenting, developing, and powering software solutions.
For example, if you want to test your development schema before going to production, you can simply create a staging environment as a copy of your production environment and apply your migration tasks. Within a few seconds you can start pre-production testing. Let that sit for a moment and realize how game-changing that is as a concept for any fast-paced project that demands frequent and granular changes.
3. Open for integrated partner solutions
Of course, no software is ever perfect. Some features may have a good and a bad side, depending on what your project demands. Certain features, such as the built-in video hosting, are a solid starting point but don’t always meet our highest expectations. However, it’s great there is basic support built into the solution.
Additionally, if you are used to more traditional content management systems for web publishing, you may miss a native page model and a sitemap. The first one is simply based on Contentful really keeping their fingers out of the front end (and you can easily address it yourself) and the second one we have solved at Bright IT.
The good thing is, the folks at Contentful are happy when their partners come up with useful extensions that, in return, allow Contentful to focus on their core competencies. For example, you can integrate specialized video hosting solutions via the Contentful Marketplace.
Arboretum is a new sitemap tool for Contentful
To give editors a user experience that more closely resembles a traditional CMS, while keeping the foundational concept of modular content entries, we at Bright IT have launched Arboretum, a sitemap tool that makes it substantially easier for business users to create and manage large (and in some cases small) websites powered by Contentful. Find out more about it on getarboretum.com.