Drew: He’s a developer advocate with the content management platform company, Contentful. Before that, he used to be a lead engineer for Dow Jones in the Wall Street Journal and has had various front end roles. He’s very UX driven and happiest when collaborating with designers and pushing boundaries as a team. And these days, he’s learning a lot about DEVREL and loving it. So we know he’s an experienced developer, but did you know he once taught Catherine Zeta Jones to do a cartwheel? My Smashing friends, please welcome Alvin Brian. Hi Alvin, how are you?Alvin: I’m smashing, thank you so much for having me here. It’s an honor.Drew: Thanks for joining us. I wanted to talk to you today about one of the key technologies that’s really at the center of so many projects, but perhaps these days doesn’t get the spotlight shone on it so often because maybe it’s not so glamorous as front-end frameworks or any of these other things. It’s content management systems. We’re all using them, but I think sometimes the discussion isn’t there about it when it’s so important. I just — before we start — want to address the elephant in the room and that you’re a developer advocate for Contentful, and I know we have a really savvy audience here at Smashing, and they’d see right through anything that was a thinly veiled ad for your employer. So I just wanted to reassure the audience at this point that this is not that, rather it’s the fact that your work leads you to have some really great upstate knowledge of the space and that’s why you’re the perfect guest for this episode. That’s right, isn’t it?Alvin: Oh yeah. I think that’s the difference between a developer advocate and a salesman. I’m not here to sell you anything, I’m here to help developers, whatever that looks like. At least this is how we approach DEVREL at Contentful. It varies, and this could be a podcast episode on its own.Drew: It could be, couldn’t it? What is developer relations? Is it a function of sales? Is it a function of marketing? Is it support? What is it?Alvin: Yeah.Drew: So yes, that’s a whole can of worms. Just to give a bit of background on me in this context, I’ve got a lot of history with the content management space from years of building bespoke systems for clients and then distilling all that experience down into a CMS product, which I founded in 2009 and then sold in 2021. All the CMS solutions that I’ve developed have followed this traditional model of the CMS being the entire platform that delivered your website. So it’d be taking content and taking templates and merging all that together to create HTML pages essentially. Is that approach to content management still a valid thing in 2023, do you think?Alvin: I think it’s valid. Well, it’s valid depending on what you’re trying to build. Squarespace is, I’m pretty sure they’re doing great. I’ve not looked at anything, any numbers, but they’ve been doing great for years and I’m sure they’ll continue. So yeah, it’s definitely a valid thing, but I think for the sort of place that would employ a developer, that may not be anymore.Drew: It’s almost that market from a development point of view, it’s almost like a solved problem, isn’t it? There are so many good CMSs for rolling out, for example, small websites. I don’t know what the latest stats on how much of the web is powered by WordPress, but it’s approaching half, isn’t it?Alvin: Yeah. I believe it kept increasing as well, right?Drew: Right.Alvin: Yeah, so definitely, it’s a thing for sure.Drew: I think we’re here today to talk about headless CMS, which of course is a different approach to the same problem. I think most of us will have heard of Contentful in some capacity over the last few years as one of the rising stars in the headless CMS space. And you really can’t talk about content management. You can’t have a content management discussion these days without headless being a factor in that discussion. We mentioned WordPress, but even WordPress has a headless mode. Drupal have what they call a coupled mode, which I think is just the same thing. So getting down to brass tacks, what do we mean when we say a headless CMS? What sort of problem is it solving for us?Alvin: The problem it’s solving is, it’s making a distinction between what the CMS manages and what you get out of it. With the traditional CMS, you’re tied to a website or a page where you’re made a page on WordPress and ended up being a page on your website. And it’s the approach that, as we said before, this is what Squarespace does, this is what they all do. With headless, you manage your content and you retrieve that content with an API call, so the way that looks on your website is completely decoupled. And this solves a lot of problems, especially with bigger companies. So you can imagine, with Contentful, one of our biggest clients is Ikea, and you can imagine that they don’t just have content on their website, they have physical catalogs, they have ads on the side of the road, so all of that. You really have to break away from this old, one page in the CMS equals one page on the website.Drew: So you end up more with a multipurpose repository of content with an API that you can then access it. So if you’re Ikea, you can pull the same product description into your mobile app and on your website and into, what, any number. So yeah, I guess it is decoupling, isn’t it? It’s, rather than saying, this content is being produced on this HTML page, it’s saying, this is a system for managing content and here is an API for getting at that content and using it however you want. So it sounds like it makes a whole bunch of problems, especially around the reusing content space, it makes that a lot easier. Are there any things, do you think, that using this approach make more difficult?Alvin: Well, it’s the time to iteration, because depending on how well your system is set up, you can go around this. But the beauty of it, what we developers love about it is, we have control. What other people in the organization tend to hate is that we have control. And as a result, if you want a brand new section on your website when you need designer to design it, a developer to make it work, you can work around it with templates and other things that we used to do. But in general, this can be a thing where people can be… I can just spin up a completely new section from scratch. Again, it might be, but there would need to be something that’s been set up previously.Drew: Right. So you can put the content into the system, but you need something then to consume it in a targeted way to make use of it. Yeah, so that, as you say, the iteration speed could be slower. One thing that I sometimes see online is, people say, “Oh, if you use a headless CMS, it’s terrible for SEO.” But with my software engineering hat on, that sounds like a symptom of one possible implementation of using a headless CMS, and it’s not inherent to the overall solution, is it? You could be merging this content into a static website offline and then publishing it, or when people take a purely client side single page app approach to using that content, that might have SEO implications and that maybe be is the sort of naive initial implementation that someone might go with.Drew: But yes, it’s funny how often that crops up almost, sort of one of these myths that drifts around people without maybe fully understanding the implications, just repeat it. One thing that Contentful talks about in a lot of their materials is composable content. What does that mean? What are we talking about with composable content?