CMS and Web Industry Trends, May 2021

In no particular order, this blog post written in May of 2021 presents some perspectives on technical trends in the web application industry, especially the paradigm shifts towards SaaS-hosted service-oriented applications and serverless infrastructure. I don’t expect any of this to be new information to most readers, but maybe it deserved a summary.

HTTPS Services (Secure Hypertext Transport Protocol)

Where the HTTP protocol is the foundation of a previous paradigm shift, service-oriented architectures insulate systems and implementations from each other. Services in general but specifically HTTPS with JSON allows applications to interact over HTTPS rather than local and platform-specific APIs, direct database connections, and other tightly coupled approaches. Accelerated by ongoing technical transitions such as to SaaS and serverless infrastructure, like mobile phones and fax machines before them, service-oriented architectures can now deliver full value because every system has them.

Because I think that APIs should be simple, I do not think that APIs alone become differentiators. Vendors that assist customers in composing applications from using the service providers that they prefer are the true differentiators.

JSON (JavaScript Object Notation)

JSON is a fundamental technology for modern HTTPS service APIs but is also a dominant from native data storage formats to JavaScript in clients and likely further. With JSON, applications store and exchange data in platform-, vendor-, and technology-independent structured, open, flexible, extensible, human-readable, semi-standard text formats supported by all computing technologies. Build processes, application servers, firmware, and any other program, script, or other process can use the HTTPS/JSON interfaces to update a data store, generate markup, or take any other action. I would expect modern developers to be much more familiar with JSON databases and GraphQL than relational databases and SQL.

Speaking of GraphQL, I see some value, btu would like for it to be that a buzzword or short-term trend rather than a transition. My perspective is that query belongs in search indexes rather than primary storage mechanisms, and I would try to avoid vendor-specific JSON formats and SDKs.

JavaScript

In addition to the increasing use of JavaScript for integration on the client, JavaScript server technologies seems to be dominating the industry, including the use of “static” site exporters and Jamstack (JavaScript, REST API/JSON, and Markup) applications that access services such as content management and search.

I have seen signs of growing interest in WebAssembly, but not enough to list it as a trend. Technically, I hope that Blazor, which converts C# to WebAssembly that depends on some JavaScript constructs, can present an alternative to JavaScript for me.

SaaS (Software as a Service)

Software as a Service (SaaS) may be the most critical ongoing transformation in the industry. Enterprises have realized that they cannot or do not want to invest in infrastructure, education, administration, and implementation of monolithic applications that often fail to deliver intended value and lock customers into perpetual obligations and significant technical debt.  With SaaS, software vendors commit to Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for hosted environments that they provision in their multitenant solutions or customer private clouds. Instead of back-end configuration and extension, all integrations use APIs, browser-based user interfaces including user interface extensions and custom user interfaces, and webhooks. Beyond security configuration and use including services and webhooks, the customer generally has little or no knowledge or responsibility for these hosted applications.

Static Files and Content Delivery Networks

Part of the move to Jamstack involves migration to CDNs for media, HTML, CSS, script, and other resources. For optimal performance, scalability, security, search engine optimization, and manageability as well as benefits for audit with minimal infrastructure and risk, static files allow the use of simple web servers backed by CDNs rather than application servers. This trend indicates the transition away from application servers towards client-side applications using services.

Infrastructure Abstraction

It seems impossible that the pace of infrastructure abstraction could continue as it has for the last several years, but the existing infrastructure is ripe for customer use. The collection of ongoing technical shifts simplifies and almost commoditize scalability and deployment automation. Along with static files, serverless (which really means less server) paradigms separate functions to maximize scalability, performance, and manageability while avoiding the need for knowledge of and responsibility for underlying application services infrastructure.

Headless Content Management Systems

Headless CMS may be the best opportunity to showcase all of these trends. I am honestly not aware of specific sales figures for any CMS vendor, but based on the number of calls I have had this year with investors interested in headless CMS vendors, there seems to be a significant trend in the headless direction. I do not believe that current market positions represent opportunities realistically and that there may be enough market opportunity to keep a large number of small vendors in business for quite some time, but dominant platforms will likely emerge in the coming years. Let’s hope those decisions are made by the market and differentiating factors rather than buzzwords, unrealistic expectations, and impossible complexity.

MACH

I am not directly involved, but I work for Contentstack, which is a member, and I work with other vendors that are members of the MACH Alliance (https://machalliance.org/). I would list MACH as a potential trend in the CMS and web solution industry, but it did not fit the structure of this post and would seem repetitive here.

  • Microservices-implemented, meaning built on services rather than exposed as services.
  • API-first, meaning APIs and webhooks are primary architectural considerations over user interfaces and features, where APIs use HTTPS/JSON rather and native platforms are unknown to other applications.
  • Cloud-architected, meaning intended for SaaS.
  • Headless, which really means that user interfaces and applications depend on services rather than native platforms.

Conclusion

I probably left a few things by accident. If you have additional perspectives and details about trends in the CMS and web solution industry, please comment on this blog post.

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