Why APIs are the future of content

It’s impossible to make your content “future-ready” unless you make your content ready for APIs. APIs are changing how content is created, managed, and delivered to audiences. They are shaping the future of content, growing more important every year. Are you prepared?

Michael Andrews

Published on Aug 7, 2020

The difference between CMS-centric and API-centric content models

Content models that structure online content can be divided into two categories: CMS-centric ones and API-centric ones. The differences between these categories are profound, but not widely understood.

  • Monolithic CMSs that use templates to format content for publication, such as web CMSs (WCMS), digital experience platforms (DXP), and component CMSs (CCMS), have an internally oriented, CMS-centric approach to content models. 
  • Headless CMSs, which don’t format content for publication, have an externally oriented, API-centric approach to content models.

Why does it matter whether a content model is API-centric or not? You can do more with an externally oriented content model. Increasingly, APIs supply the raw material of online experiences and make them available on-demand. APIs take the concept of content structure and raise it to another level. A robust content API makes the details of your content discoverable and obtainable. 

Planning content for APIs

Comparatively few organizations plan their content with APIs in mind. For a content model to be useful, it needs to be addressable via an API.

API-led content development focuses on the content first. It breaks topics into meaningful parts that can be delivered when and where they are needed. It focuses on creating value. The more that a part is accessed by audiences to fulfill a need they have, the more valuable that part is.

When planning for APIs, organizations should structure their content according to what’s valuable to others. Can all valuable information:

  • Be easily accessed by whoever needs it, whether a person or even another application such as a calendar? 
  • Be delivered whenever and wherever it is needed?

Matching needs, not creating excess

APIs are matchmakers. They match customer needs with content about those needs. APIs can curb the widespread problem of giving people content they don’t need. And they can help organizations make sure they are producing content that’s truly useful. 

When content development is planned around how APIs will use the parts of the content, it prevents the overproduction of content and avoids overwhelming readers. It promotes a dialog with customers instead of dumping them with too much to look at.

Many organizations have an output mindset, planning screens full of content and longish articles. They have strived to ramp up their production of such content. Those who have done this often face a problem of declining return on engagement. The more content there is, the less valuable to audiences each item is. 

APIs shift the focus away from the internal preoccupations toward external goals. Planning for APIs encourages you to think about how to open up your content. 

Opening up details

Many monolithic CMS vendors are taking note of the growing popularity of headless content management and are responding by adding APIs to their products. While these “hybrid” offerings open up their content somewhat, their APIs fall short. Critical details in their content are still locked up. Only some high-level details about content items can be shared.

For an API to be valuable to those who are outside of your organization, it needs to be able to access the full content model, not just select parts of it. And the content model needs to structure topics into elements that represent meaningful parts of information to users. They need to be able to request specific details, rather than retrieve large blocks of text.

APIs attached to monolithic CMSs must negotiate with an internally focused content model that structures content around templates for document outputs rather than independent units of meaning. These content models are an internal language that the CMS uses, but the rest of the world can’t. An API-focused content model, in contrast, allows various parts of the content to be freely used outside of the CMS platform. 

API experts distinguish between APIs that can access “coarse grain” information from those that can access “fine grain” information. An API that can access the more precise, fine grain elements is far more valuable: “Fine-grained communication offers the ability to sort data at a more usable, useful level.” The content models associated with headless CMSs can offer such fine-grain information because any element in the content model can be accessed via an API. 

How you structure your content—and make it accessible via an API—determines how audiences experience that content. What outside audiences can access depends on what the API makes available to them. If the content is lumpy, where many important parts aren’t accessible by the API, the flow of information is disrupted. Instead of hose supplying a steady flow of information, you have a long snake that’s swallowed something too big to digest easily. 

APIs keep getting more capable

Some content professionals consider APIs as simply a delivery mechanism: another way to push out content. But APIs have become much more sophisticated over time. Today, APIs don’t just deliver predefined content. They’ve become central to how content is managed. They provide the means to open content up so that people who aren’t users of the CMS can still get the precise content they need. Content is not just delivered: it becomes interactive, where different people, applications, and systems can utilize content in various ways. 

APIs have evolved from a basic request-response mechanism to becoming event-driven. APIs can bundle and transform elements of content to enhance the value of the information. They can launch queries and listen for changes in the information, providing updates continuously—all at a large scale.

APIs can manage lots of content details, and they dispatch their work with blazing efficiency. Tasks that would be onerous and impractical to do manually become possible. And as a result, your content becomes more valuable to those who use it.

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