"Every developer eventually builds a CMS" is a joke I came across enough times that I promised myself I wouldn't do it. Although I think the joke often comes from developers who have been in the industry for a lot longer than I have, and perhaps enough of them either built or came across custom CMS solutions.
Luckily, we are no longer in the era in which building a bespoke CMS is common for one-off projects. On the other hand, while there are many CMS products in the market we are very much in the era of using (or repurposing) SaaS applications as headless Content Management Systems.
Many applications have nice interfaces, customisable data structures, native mobile apps and developer-friendly APIs. Some even have built-in field types! The ability to build custom extensions provided by some applications also open doors to fill in any gaps in order to utilise them as CMS solutions.
Content has a new potential home. CMS products have competition from products that are not classified as a CMS or site builders and, in many cases, not built to solve the same problems. These products can perform many of the same tasks and some may even out-perform traditional CMS products in some aspects.
The bar is a little higher for CMS products nowadays. The expected feature list is a bit longer ranging from built-in third-party integrations to real-time collaboration and from customisability to ease-of-use.
The CMS target audience no longer compares a CMS product only against other CMS products, but also against other digital products. A Content Management System is a digital product after all. When users are exposed to a wider range of digital products and find a feature has become so common amongst these products, they may eventually expect the average CMS to support it too.
There are several products you can use as a CMS:
- Google Drive
- Google Sheets
- Airtable / more Airtable / Aritable + Gatsby / even CSS-Tricks has an article on using Airtable as a CMS
Zenkit, a SaaS product that offers a good deal of customisability, even suggests on their website that you can use the product as a CMS:
Don’t just manage projects – create a CRM, CMS, ERP, or anything else you need.
And you probably can create your own custom headless CMS solution using Zoho Creator, a low-code platform.
As with almost everything in the tech world, using a digital product that isn't a CMS to manage and deliver content to websites does not suit all use cases. I'm not claiming that. However, this approach is certainly viable.
We've seen site builders compete against CMS products and services such as Squarespace and Wix now serve a market that otherwise would rely on a CMS to power their websites. We've seen many developers ditch CMS solutions in favour for static site generators when possible. So I don't think it is too crazy to consider some SaaS products as alternatives to content management systems, especially when a product like Airtable can also be used for managing other aspects of a business (e.g. project management, CRM).
I do, however, think the headless CMS scene has great options. So unless a company is already using a product for managing other aspects of the business, it probably makes more sense to pick a tool that was designed for managing and delivering content.
If you were to use a SaaS product as a headless CMS, what product would you choose?