The Weekly Archive: The “Headless” CMS Of My Dreams

I sat down for a meeting this week with an executive from a brand experience agency to talk shop. He used to be in the publishing side of the world and is connected now to some of the most significant trends in technology, from the practical application of wearables and IoT at events to the development of content for mixed and virtual reality.

The subject of the eventual redesign of ARC came up (we are in the early planning stages) and he mentioned something to me that perked my head right up.

A “headless CMS.”

I’ll define what a headless CMS is in a moment, but let me back up a bit.

Any veteran technology journalist will admit to you, if you really press them on it, that they are always kind of wondering what they’d do if they were to launch a startup. It’s hard not to daydream about it … tech journalists are inundated with other people’s ideas. Why not have some of our own?

Editor’s Note: This is The Weekly Archive email newsletter from ARC editor-in-chief Dan Rowinski. It usually goes out Sunday morning at 11:15 a.m. EST and is a column riffing on a trending theme in technology with a wrap up of this week’s news at the bottom. It is also published on ARC’s website. We will experiment with putting The Weekly Archive on Medium for a few weeks to test engagement. If you want The Weekly Archive to come straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

A lot of us with this entrepreneurial itch just start our own publications. Vox, Recode, Search Engine Land, Skift, Verge, The Information … ARC. All started by journalists that had that startup itch and the need to build something. Other journalists go to work for the tech companies they used to cover (ARC also fits in this category). On rare occasions a tech journalist will go on to become part of a founding team based on a technology sector they cover but are not necessarily technically knowledgeable about.

For a long time I have tried to identify markets ripe for a company to fill a specific need that could be “my” startup. Perhaps simplifying multi-channel wireless protocol integrations for the Internet of Things? Something with Bluetooth beacons? Data gathering and management for sports? Tie my old career as a chef together with my new career in technology?

As I have learned from Techstars Boston over the years, the best startups are ones that solve a definite problem with an identifiable market and led by people that have worked in that same industry and know its peculiar quirks. ARC writes about IoT a lot, but I don’t have experience in that market. Beacons may or may not ever be a real problem solver for anything. I know little about data management. “Food tech” is an oxymoron.

In running ARC, I have realized that I have certain problems as a publisher. To effectively compete in fluid and volatile media landscape, I need to be able to integrate into all the channels available to me. Facebook Instant Articles, AMP integration, Progressive Web Apps, Apple News, LinkedIn Pulse, Medium. But I do not have the editorial or development resources to enter and maintain all of these channels in effective and meaningful ways.

Small publishers are at an inherent disadvantage in adopting tech companies’ new platforms. Google is going to choose maybe a dozen top-end media brands to work with when it launches things like AMP or Progressive Web Apps. Facebook was the same with Instant Articles and Apple with Apple News. Once these platforms are open to all publishers, few of them have the knowledge or resources to adopt them.

So, while sitting at the 10th Techstars Boston demo day a couple of weeks ago, something hit me. What if “my” startup could be the one that makes it possible, in an easy, turnkey solution, to enable publishers to hit all of these channels without the need for a ton of development resources? What if I could just publish something once and have it go where it needs to go, in the format that it needs to be in, optimized to social platform or device? This, I thought, is a great idea. One that I am suited to start.

And then I learned that it already exists.

Which brings us back to the headless CMS. A headless CMS (also called a decoupled CMS) is defined by Contentful as:

A headless CMS has its front-end component (the head) stripped and removed from its backend, and what remains is a backend delivering content via an API. It thus does not care how and where the content is displayed, and focuses on storing and delivering the content and provides tools to create and organize it — nothing more.

Basically, you create content and throw it through an API and it gets published everywhere you need it. No need for individual configuration of desktop website, Web app or native app. The API takes care of all of those endpoints. I have not yet seen it go to the likes of Facebook Instant Articles, but that is the next logical step.

So, my dreams of building the company that makes this all possible have been dashed. But the tool I have long desired to help my publication exists. We will definitely discuss if a headless CMS is the right way to go for ARC when it comes time to start building out our redesign.

Weekly Archive Links Of The Week

Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends Report was released this week. Meeker focuses on the growth of the Chinese technology market, the new era of messaging and the takeover of voice as the dominant Human-Computer Interaction model.

Meeker notes where the 4 billion people on Earth are that don’t have Internet access.

Alexa now has 1,000 skills. And skill discovery — just like the apps economy — is starting to become a problem.

Google engineers explain how Android Wear 2.0 will optimize battery life.

The Industrial Internet of Things will be a multi-trillion dollar market. That’s trillion … with a T.

The freemium model is officially the best money maker for app publishers.

In a move that surprises no one, Tony Fadell is leaving Nest.


The algorithmic Instagram feed is being rolled out.

Google has a new website to test how mobile friendly and fast your website is.

Snapchat has 150 million daily active users.

Mark Gurman — Apple whisperer — will join Bloomberg after he graduates from University of Michigan. Hard to believe he is still only 22 years old.

Google Home will essentially be a Chromecast wrapped in a pretty shell.

Tell your colleagues that the best thing to read on Sunday morning is The Weekly Archive. Subscribe here.

Take deeper breaths, think bigger thoughts.

Dan Rowinski
ARC — The Application Resource Center

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