Key question

The first question that I hear when talking about headless CMSs is: What a headless CMS actually is and what benefit it can give me? Ok, so when we talk about headless CMSs we should actually consider three complementary aspects. Let's define them.

Aspect one - content

CMS stands for Content Management System. Whether it's a traditional WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) CMS focused on Web pages, or a headless CMS, it's all about content. The content is the first aspect.

Let's imagine you want to spread an important message to the world. The message itself is the value you have and want to share. The message is the content.

Aspect two - communication interface

How to spread the message? Well, you have to somehow transmit it. You can use your mouth to say the words of the message, you can write the words using pen and paper, a stick in the sand, a keyboard, or maybe in a different way. These are all ways of transferring the message out of your brain (the database for the content). In other words, all these methods enable you and your audience to communicate with each other. Spoken words, written words, sign language, are all interfaces to communicate with your audience. In the digital world such means of communication are called APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). The API is the second aspect.

Aspect three - channel

So if you want to spread an important message, you can go outdoors, stand on the street and shout it out loud. You would use the spoken words interface. But wait, who will receive the message? Well, apart from some lone passer-by that may not be that interested in your message. Most probably, no one will consume the content you have to offer. And by the way, never, ever stay in the middle of a crowded street to share your thoughts with others.

Well, you could record your voice and publish a podcast with the message. Or you could record a video and publish it on YouTube or Vimeo. Or you could record your voice, add some music to it and publish it as a song on Spotify. Or you could write the message with a stick on the sand, make a photo and post it on Instagram, or write it down with your keyboard and publish a book, or you could... Well, I hope you get it. A podcast, a video, a song, a photo or a book are all channels, ways of spreading the content to reach as wide audience as you wish. The channel is the third aspect.

Putting it all together

As in the real world, where thoughts in your head can be easily expressed using spoken or written words, similarly, in the digital world, the content and the API (the two out of three main aspects) come together. The third aspect, the channel, requires a bit of effort and ingenuity from you in the real world. Similarly in the digital world, you need some skills and resources to consume the content and transform it into the channel through which you would like to share the content with the audience.

Three aspects of headless CMSes. Content, API and channel.

And essentially that's it. That's what the headless CMS is. A tool to store, manage and expose the content. The way you consume the content and expose it to the wider audience is up to you. The headless CMS doesn't mind. As promised, I've kept it to 3 minutes... All right, even though this message was created in my mind on the 7th of June 2022 (the content), then expressed via written words (the API) and published as a blog article (the channel), I can clearly hear your voice screaming from the future: "Hey wait, you explained what it is, but what benefits can this whole headless CMS give me?"

The promise

Well, isn't it obvious? Haven't we said that the real value is the message/content? Isn't it beautiful that I can prepare the message only once and then shout it out into the hills to hear the echo, record it and admire the number of views on YouTube, listen to it on Spotify and maybe even read it as a book? Isn't it beautiful that you can ask me for a long or short version of the message and it still costs me nothing at all to answer that request? Because the content is there, in my mind, the headlessful database of everything that humankind has ever invented.

Note: head in the headless stands for the presentation layer, hence headless CMS actually means a content management system that is not bonded/limited by any presentation/channel.