Using content infrastructure as CaaS: Content as a service
All about this new take on Content Infrastructure
This article introduces content infrastructure and content as a service (CaaS) as a way to think about content management. Whereas the traditional web CMS like WordPress and Drupal try to be the single solution for both managing content and creating websites, CaaS vendors focus purely on content management without taking opinions about the output — which still could be websites, but also print, mobile apps, and other devices and channels.
In this article, you will learn what CaaS is, how it compares to the existing CMS, in which contexts it makes sense to go CaaS, and see some projects built on top of it. We'll also touch on topics such as reasoning why content as a service appeared and how to properly evaluate CaaS solutions. We'll also explain content infrastructure and how that fits into the CaaS approach.
What is content infrastructure?
Content infrastructure is the modern way to put content management in your stack. Building apps, websites and every other digital delivery solution imaginable using content infrastructure is what Contentful is all about.
Creating first class user experiences that runs on any platform is now only a matter of integrating content infrastructure and CaaS in your developer workflow.
Content infrastructure requires a much smaller administrative burden than a headless WordPress installation. And it goes without saying that the same is true for a headless Drupal setup.
How does content infrastructure work?
Developers access content stored within the content infrastructure via API-calls. Working with assets via the APIs is a two-way street — assets can be both downloaded and uploaded to the content infrastructure using your favorite stack.
A key feature of content infrastructure is that it’s a hosted solution fronted content delivery network (CDN). The architecture guarantees low response times for any content and gives a worry-free platform for your digital assets. So now you can spend more time coding and less time babysitting a monolithic CMS.
What is content as a service?
Content as a service, also known as CaaS, is where a provider delivers on-demand content to consumers via a web service. Content as a service is also a way to refer to a modern content platform, since there are no significant differences when it comes to API calls and delivery of content.
What are the differences between CaaS vs. WordPress/Drupal or another web CMS?
Unlike more traditional web CMSes like WordPress and Drupal, CaaS strategies focus on content management using the following approaches:
These CMS encourage content owners to structure their content — to operate in chunks, not page blobs. This reflects the shift from page-centric web to content-centric web. Content strategy expert Karen McGrane's WYSIWTF piece gives some great context of why chunks are much better than blobs.
Decoupled CaaS approach
Content as a service always means separating the front-end (content presentation) from the backend (content storage and delivery). Essentially, this separation of concerns simplifies the CMS architecture: every piece does its own one thing. Read more about headless/decoupled CMS.
Separation of content and presentation
This family of CMS no longer imposes any design limitations on the product. It means that a CMS is only used to manage and deliver pure content and the channel-specific client decides about the visual representation of that content.
CaaS, as a sub-group of SaaS (Software as a service) approach, moves the content from your servers to the vendor's cloud. That means that every CaaS user doesn't have to set up, maintain, and scale the infrastructure on their own — the vendor does that for each of them.
CaaS pros and cons
If content as a service is that good, why isn't everyone using it already? Well, mostly because it’s good in some contexts (see the section above) and not so splendid in others.
For example, CaaS is not as good for setting up a personal blog. Or it’s not as good when you know that you only want to do a website, and that is it. Because the effort is not worth it: there are other solutions, much cheaper and less complicated, for these particular scenarios.
What drives the adoption of CaaS?
More and more developers and business owners are looking at CaaS CMS solutions to satisfy their content delivery needs. Here are some driving factors:
CaaS for developers
In many cases, mobile app developers need a backend to feed their apps with content. Front-end developers expect to interact with an API. While those technologies have been around for some time, they are becoming increasingly popular, increasing the demand for CaaS.
CaaS for businesses
Here are some reasons that more businesses are moving toward CaaS solutions:
Content owners want to get their content to as many platforms and channels as possible: web, mobile, social networks, smart devices, and so on.
It’s too expensive to have a separate solution for every channel — development-wise and maintenance-wise.
It’s much more efficient to have a single editorial team and a single software stack for all channels.
Developers can be more productive and efficient with the tools they like, and CaaS solutions tend to fall into this category of tools.
What features should CaaS have?
There are three essential parts to CaaS model: the editing interface (typically a web app), the CMS infrastructure capabilities, and the development ecosystem.
Enables content architects to create the content model (the structure of content)
Enables content editors to manage content — that is, create it, update it and collaborate on it
Performance, uptime, scalability to ensure you can trust your CaaS vendor to reliably deliver content in mission-critical applications
SLAs with short incident response times and access to dedicated staff — so in case of problems you get a mission-critical app back up again, fast
Mobile delivery capabilities so that you can provide a great user experience even in network-challenged environments (like subways, rural areas) and high bandwidth cost areas (such as emerging markets)
API-based importing, management, and delivery for controlling content programmatically both ways
Comprehensive and up-to-date documentation to help the development team start using the CaaS tools quickly
CDN (content delivery network) to deliver CaaS rapidly
SDKs and libraries so your team is up to speed faster no matter what their tech stack is
Demo app source code so developers don't have to reinvent the wheel anew
Third-party integrations so you get value from existing tools
Why don't open source solutions cut it as CaaS?
Notably, popular open source CMSes such as WordPress and Drupal are moving in the content as a service direction, mainly by introducing plugins ([Drupal RESTful web services], [WordPress REST API]) which add RESTfulness on top of the existing setup. Drupal 8 will also include RESTful API in its core. Running such a configuration in the cloud makes for a semi-CaaS solution.
However, while this change adds something which was missing before, the architecture of the system remains the same—web-based, page-centric. Without CaaS, there are still no good ways to structure content in a custom way, there are scaling issues, and content and presentation continue living together.
In some cases, it might be sufficient to go with a web CMS with an add-on on top, but we have experienced that problems arise on the way.