Cybernews interviews DatoCMS: inspiration, differentiation, and the future of CMSs

Posted on August 24th, 2023 by Cybernews

Integrated high-performance, efficiency models like headless CMSs are transforming the content creation market. Adapting to rapidly advancing technologies is crucial for enterprises in the digital commerce world. This means stepping outside their comfort zones and taking more control of their content publishing productivity. With such flexible access, protecting that constant flow of data is paramount.

The incorporation of the best VPN for user security is highly recommended. Additionally, it's important to explore the innovative services that a headless CMS offers and delve into their policies on cybersecurity and business security.

For a deeper dive into the relationship between content creation, headless CMSs, and business security, we spoke with Matteo Papadopoulos, in charge of sales and partnerships at DatoCMS – A headless CMS cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (Saas) company that provides a customizable platform to meet the web marketing needs of professionals and businesses.

Cybernews: What inspired you to start DatoCMS, and how has your vision for the company evolved?

Matteo Papadopoulos: Back in 2015, DatoCMS started as a tool in the toolbox of a web agency specializing in Ruby on Rails. At the time, it was common practice for agencies to create custom CMSs to meet the needs of their client’s marketing websites. Despite a market teeming with over 15,000 different CMSs, WordPress was a clear front-runner by covering >50% of the web.

Creating and maintaining a CMS didn't make sense. It's like the endless building of server-side applications for marketing or institutional websites, whose content rarely, if ever, changed. Right around that time, static site generators were coming up. Developers loved them for their performance and scalability, but clients and content editors? Not so much. There was a need for a CMS tailored to that niche.

That's how DatoCMS entered the scene. We started with a REPL (Read-Eval-Print Loop) that took us 100 hours to develop. It allowed us to create models and structures through REST API calls.

After using it for many projects, we decided to turn it into a SaaS. We added a visual editing interface built on top of the same API. And that's the way it has stayed. Our REST API is extremely powerful and comprehensive. It allows users to do everything that the current DatoCMS Backend offers.

Over the years, we have seen rapid market growth alongside a decline in interest in static sites. There has been a radical change in the development stack thanks to JavaScript frameworks like Next.js and Gatsby. Blazing-fast API calls, GraphQL queries, multi-channel capabilities, and service integrations have become more important. Today, everything revolves around this approach, which has found a place in the field of the composable business. DatoCMS has become an essential part of it.

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CN: Tell us more about what you do. How does DatoCMS differentiate itself from other CMS platforms in terms of features and functionality?

MP: Unlike traditional CMSs — where the backend and frontend are stuck together to provide a single output — a headless CMS drives digital content through APIs. It focuses on content architecture, and it doesn't know how the frontends are going to use it.

Content gets served up across several channels, adjusted on the fly for any device that comes its way. The decoupling speeds up production. It quickens time-to-market and gives the chance to bring many services together.

It's about crafting an editorial experience that fits the context. Not forcing the context to fit the experience.

The past few years have seen a large number of headless CMSs hit the scene. Each with its own focuses and structural peculiarities. DatoCMS positions itself on the market as a cloud-based Software as a Service (SaaS). That means the product is ready to go immediately once you subscribe.

No installation and no headaches. You start implementing the information architecture modeling, set validations, and upload images, videos, and digital assets. Then edit your content. Because we're a cloud-based service, we're taking care of the backend maintenance, slashing the need for DevOps. There's a constant evolution of functionality and bug fixing.

This all comes from our roots as an agency tool. We've been in the trenches for over 15 years, so we understand what developers and customers need. We've learned that the best thing we can do is make things easy. Perhaps for this reason the most frequent feedback we receive relates to ease of use. Both for UX and for DX (development experience). We have put a lot of care into these aspects.

In particular, DatoCMS allows you to create model structures. For example, types of pages, including those with single instances and blocks. The latter are components you can reuse across models and can be nested among themselves. In this way, for example, the needs of an Atomic Design System can be covered.

Also, there's the advanced validation system and the use of environments for schema changes. There's auto-generation of migrations and a powerful SDK for plugins. These aren't simple 'nice-to-haves' — they set DatoCMS apart in the headless market.

CN: Can you explain how DatoCMS integrates with other tools and services in the web development and digital ecosystem?

MP: "Composability" is the word nowadays! It’s the evolution of the microservices architecture concept. Headless services are the solution for companies looking to get in on this. IT teams, system integrators, or agencies can orchestrate specialized services that deliver information to other services when it's needed. After that, they can develop frontends for different channels.

Digital Commerce has felt the biggest impact from this. CMSs are boosting the marketing info from headless commerce or next-gen PIMs. Store managers and content editors work in separate but connected environments. It's tailored to make their daily operations more efficient. Developers are getting specialized, consistent information for each front end. Everyone is happier!

In this scenario, the possibilities for integrations are endless. All you need are some APIs and the plugin SDK offered by DatoCMS to create and integrate what editors need. Our marketplace has plugins for translation services, e-commerce platforms, text analysis tools, artificial intelligence, image generators, data visualization, and visual editing. That's just scratching the surface.

We've had some strategically useful integrations in DatoCMS from the beginning. AWS for storage and some AI services, Imgix for real-time image editing, Mux for video management, Vercel, Netlify, and Gatsby Cloud for deployment environments. There are different systems for SSO.

​​CN: How do you think the recent global events affected your field of work? Were there any new challenges?

MP: In this period, it's clear that the IT industry is downsizing. Teams are getting reduced. There are more cautious investors. Big funds are mainly funneled into aggressive marketing rather than product development. It's a reality that every player in the field has to grapple with.

We're treading a different path. One of the significant differentiators that sets us apart from most competitors, is our lack of VC backing. We've grown organically. Bootstrapped from the ground up while focusing on the making of a solid product. Not to mention the world-class support. With a lean team and zero marketing outlay, we've managed to double our revenues year on year.

Sometimes, our lack of marketing can feel like a disadvantage because it's difficult to stand out. Getting our name on the decision table is thanks to word of mouth from insiders. Yet, there is a flip side in our favor: "security". I'm not talking about IT security here. It's business security that's on my mind. That's something that has gained importance in the aftermath of the composable business era.

We are observing an interesting phenomenon. Solid, self-funded businesses like ours are finding more and more favor. We're noticing a trend where even enterprise companies are getting interested. Some are migrating from our larger, more well-known competitors to join us.

And, given the size, some may look at us with caution. Then again, the doubt that it might be better to have a team of specialized professionals with a solid business is better than the alternatives. Especially when the benchmarks match up with the best in the industry.

CN: Can you share any insights or best practices for effective content collaboration and workflow management using DatoCMS as well as other CMSs?

MP: Without a doubt, DatoCMS's validation system is a kind of guarantee in the world of content management. It ensures data consistency and content integrity from both the UI and API side.

When set, editors might find this flow a bit too tight for comfort. Other CMSs will let you run wild by default, with no API restrictions. That essentially leaves the validation process to the frontend code. Different choices fit different scenarios.

After years, we’re still big fans of this "validation by design" concept. It provides immense benefits. It guarantees structured, consistent content from APIs. It enables easier, cleaner, and maintainable front-end code. It also provides more certainty during the build and deployment phases.

Additionally, DatoCMS supports a comprehensive roles and permissions system for advanced content management flows. The product, in all its versions, lets you control entire content areas, right down to single-field permissions.

Also, Workflows are a great tool. There are logical structures that let you build unique, independent flows for one or more models. It's like having several recipes where you can assign different roles, teams, or departments to each step. They can iterate until all the requirements get met, and finally lead to publication.

The final experience for your editors. Clean, simple, secure.

A unique feature of DatoCMS's design is the Record lock. It favors consistency over real-time multi-users editing. Then, the field-level content versioning feature. It enables a history view, identifies changes over time, and restores previous versions. Which is crucial for an effective editorial verification process.

CN: Have you noticed any misconceptions or myths surrounding CMS and content-related industries? What could be their origin?

MP: Tough question! When it comes to building out a complex information architecture, we're looking at these established, hierarchical structures. That includes relationships grounded in taxonomies and ontologies. These tools have been around for ages and they work so well in many fields that you would think they were the only way to go.

It's a kind of myth or status–quo. They do play a key role, especially from a multichannel perspective. Even so, we need to understand that different project channels may need different structures and forms. It depends on the contexts, not the structures.

Only a handful of projects out there are leveraging the superpower of headless: centralized content for multichannel. There's still a strong 1:1 relationship between CMS and websites. Each one developed with different technologies. So, some old habits persist.

For example, it's still uncommon to see architectures that aren't tied to the concept of a "menu". A digital product's content structure doesn't match a menu. We're also moving away from the concept of a 'page'. A piece of content, like an article, is considered an editorial 'object' composed of general meta-information and a set of different sections.

Each section can 'extend' the object, preparing content that gets used across different channels. Each one of these could have different structures and ontologies as well.

These observations might be misconceptions or simply need time to get incorporated. On one hand, we have the market putting up resistance because of budget constraints or lack of experience. On the other hand, agencies and developers need to step outside their comfort zones.

And last, headless and "composability" aren't universal solutions. The advantages of scalability, performance, and efficiency are quite evident. But, they come with their own set of needs. Integrations, custom developments, frequent frontend maintenance, and some limitations, particularly if you're going the route of static sites.

These aspects shouldn't get underestimated in some cases or for small local businesses. A traditional CMS can be a more budget-friendly and effective choice.

CN: How does DatoCMS address security and data privacy concerns, especially when handling sensitive user information and content? Are there any security tools you would recommend?

MP: As a service, we operate from a fairly simplified standpoint. We don't handle sensitive data beyond the names and emails of our users. Approximately 90% of the content we store is public, primarily for marketing purposes.

It's available for viewing on the web. We don't track or own any analytics about the visitors who use the content from DatoCMS. Those activities are left to the front end and any other services that may be in use. While this approach simplifies things, it doesn't absolve us of our responsibilities. Privacy and security remain top-tier priorities for us.

We've hand-picked our Platform-as-a-service vendors with serious consideration. For example, we have Fastly, Cloudflare, and Heroku — industry heavyweights with solid certifications. For the sensitive side of things, like payments and billing storage, we place our trust in Stripe and Chargebee. Hey, isn't that a fine-looking composable?

Ours is a small team of hyper-specialized professionals. No outsiders are dealing with critical components. This effective streamlined setup aids us in verifying access to our customers' data. We're currently completing our ISO 27001 certification this summer. That will further fortify this aspect and assure our most discerning clients.

As for the application, our workflows, roles, and permissions are granular enough to empower companies to internally manage the security of their content. Control is given only to those authorized for reviewing, editing, or deleting data.

At the organization level, only users with the owner role can revise company details. Only they can plan or change the billing profile. The two-factor authentication is available for every account.

Last, but not least, we have integrated a range of services for SSO. This is granting companies a greater degree of control over accounts, management, roles, and de-provisioning when it's go-time.

CN: How do you see your industry evolving over the next few years? Are there any emerging trends that you are currently observing?

MP: The headless ecosystem is a solution to real-world problems. For those who are seeking to communicate with a global audience, it's a game changer. This approach, beyond its many advantages, offers something invaluable for those needing to quickly adapt to a worldwide market: flexibility! Also, it avoids having to rebuild everything from scratch.

From this perspective, the growth potential is vast and there's no reason to believe it will slow down. As the concepts of composability and multichannel become the new norm, we're likely to see a surge of creative content applications. Especially in channels currently getting underused.

There are simple and unexpected use cases that could soon embrace headless. For instance, highly bureaucratic areas of large companies could streamline their content review and publication flows. In the journalism world, professionals still share articles with their editors via email as Word documents. Files that are full of red and yellow highlights.

Then there are the more innovative areas, some close, some still on the horizon. Take the gaming industry. It still manages large amounts of content on unfriendly integrated CMSs that are challenging for editors.

Traditional publishing is beginning to suspect that a headless CMSs can serve both digital and print versions. But, they're not quite there yet. Not to mention the various metaverses or futuristic Spatial Computing. New channels will inevitably get saturated with all sorts of content.

CN: Would you like to share what’s next for DatoCMS?

MP: The era of Visual Editing has arrived! We're talking about web apps that bridge the gap between a headless CMS and the final website. It gives editors and designers a chance to revise structures and content directly on the site's preview.

With Visual Editing enabled, you can efficiently navigate to specific content without needing to know its exact location within DatoCMS.

This isn't a new concept. For instance, Stackbit — a service specializing in visual editing — has been working for a couple of years on integrating the most complex areas of DatoCMS. It's even nailing the visual management of structured content.

Now, strong signals are indicating that the time is ripe. In the following year, we expect these features to have a robust emergence. DatoCMS is present here. We've recognized a strong demand from users in the headless world for the capabilities they already find in other digital spaces.

We're also focusing on crafting an enhanced editorial experience for managing multilingual digital content. Content centralization, which is distributed across multiple channels goes hand-in-hand with the globalization of earlier decentralized platforms. The benefits for businesses are impressive. But the need for an optimized flow for translations and localization is equally significant.

DatoCMS, originally born in Italy, boasts an incredibly advanced native i18n system. We recognized the need for localization right from the first alpha release. This gave us a significant advantage over some of our English-speaking competitors. Those who had to add these features at a later stage of development, need to update the user interface, code, validations, and more.

We're already hard at work on something quite powerful and innovative on both fronts. We can't wait to roll out the first things!

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