Pondering a pivot

The contract for our corporate website is drawing to a close so we thought it would be a good opportunity to see what other Content Management Services are on the market. We particularly wanted to focus on headless or decoupled CMSs that can push content to digital products beyond the Web. This will help our residents to find information through their preferred channel.

Having emerged from this process, we want to share our thoughts on choosing, using and perhaps losing a content management system.

A comparison piece by an external agency looked at a field of 23 contenders and came out recommending the headless CMS ‘Contentful’. We validated this decision when the Re-Engineering Hackney Content project started and, many postits later, we stood by that recommendation. It was a very close-run race at the time but Contentful just nudged past WordPress by a nose. Contentful appeared quick to build new components and features, had a low learning curve for developers, was extendable and high-performing and was easy to maintain and deploy.

As with any trial, however, the more you experiment, the more you learn. And, in our case, we’re learning it may not be the product for us.

First up, we have found the out-the-box functionality to be more limited that we’d expect from a live product. Some of the initial user stories we’d pulled together to spec the CMS are not being met that easily. For example, we’ve had to custom-code iFrames, the rich text editor is in beta and loses formatting on copy and paste, filtering draft from published pages has needed a workaround, we’ve hacked the description field to categorise pages and assets. This is functionality we’d prefer designed-in but we’re having to think outside-the-box to create it. This takes time. And we’re becoming less confident of being able to meet more complicated functions down the road.

We have found solace in the Contentful community and those developers have proved a valuable source of knowledge. They have been able to answer our questions where the official support route has sometimes not.

We aren’t taking this decision lightly but, if we are to pivot, now’s the time to do it. One of the benefits of Agile methodology is that there is no loss of face in changing tack once you learn more. Well, there’s some; we’re only human.

Where next? One of the benefits of a headless CMS is we can get out quick and take our styles and content with us. We’re trialling a .org instance of WordPress and estimate we’ll be back up to speed within the week. It’s API-led so we can still push the content out to wherever we want in the future and have full control over the front-end templates.

No doubt Contentful is following a yellow brick roadmap to the Emerald City and will be glittering when it gets there. But, for a site such as ours – relied on by thousands of residents and businesses – we can’t rise up as early adopters just yet.

One of the best diaries about a pivot is @ryan-caldbeck at CircleUp. If you haven’t read it and are considering a switch, his Twitter posts are a rollercoaster read.  We’d love to know what you think about our decision and any similar experiences you’ve encountered on your CMS projects. Please post your comments below.

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