Slides from “How Vassar Home-brewed a Headless CMS,” given at HighEdWeb New England 3/18/2016

See the slides from my presentation. Make sure to hit “s” once opened to see my notes—or look at the source code. At the end, I’ve added resources for further study.

Session synopsis

“Headless” or “decoupled” CMSs may be buzzwords you’ve heard recently, but the principles they follow and systems they represent are neither fads nor new — they help us solve real-world problems in scalable, maintainable ways.

It’s well understood that separation of concerns is best practice, especially when applied to separating content (HTML) from presentation (CSS). The same principle applies to a CMS and its published pages. Monolithic CMSs like WordPress or Drupal attempt to be both CMS and WPT (web publishing tool), using proprietary systems and APIs to manipulate HTML templates or themes. Not only do these require specialized skill and knowledge, their results are often sub-optimal, reducing website quality.

For four years, Vassar has been developing an integrated system for managing website lifecycles, based on a headless CMS that publishes flat files, a server-side templating layer, and centrally controlled, server-side SASS compilation. We’ve found that this approach has helped us in a number of ways, including more efficient workflows, total control over markup, and nimbly adapting to change. By separating these concerns, we’ve allowed our CMS, and those who use it, to focus on what it’s good at — managing content — and tailored our presentation to reflect our standards exactly.

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