NEWS · April 30th 2021

Content Is Data - The vision for a Platform for Structured Content

We’ve talked about the importance of structured content since the start, let's drill down into why we believe in treating content as data, and how Sanity help you get there

Magnus Hillestad

Magnus is CEO and co-founder of Sanity.io

Last month, we hosted a virtual open house where 500+ developers, editors and business leaders from around the world tuned in to get a glimpse of our outlook for the future. We announced the launch of Sanity Content Lake, our real-time database for structured content. It was an exciting day because it’s a major milestone for us, a big step in our mission to power the customer experiences of the future.

We’ve been talking about the importance of structured content since the start, but now is a good time to drill down into why we are so bullish on treating content as data and making key strategic bets on this way of working, and how we support our customers and community, today and for the future.

Attract and keep your customers through holistic digital experiences

We all know that software is eating the world. It’s a cliche, but true. All companies need to adapt and think like software companies.

Not only is e-commerce booming, but more importantly, the whole experience of your brand and your product is going digital. McKinsey found that the pandemic has accelerated this process by 3+ years. Even for physical products, the product experience starts when consumers begin to explore the values of the brand and the benefits of the product online. In a world of Amazon, Netflix and short attention spans, we need to find new ways to engage with our customers and compel them to engage with our brand. We have to redefine how we communicate with our customers.

Customers expect every interaction with you to be seamless, personalized, and responsive, from the product itself to discovering your brand to the help desk and support. You’re not just providing product experiences for your customers. Your company itself IS the product experience. Areas like marketing and e-commerce are just pieces of the puzzle. You have to think beyond that to the holistic customer experience as the key revenue driver. Product and marketing are converging into the same thing.

It’s an organizational problem, not a tech problem

This means disciplines can’t work in a silo. Delivering exceptional product experiences requires creativity, collaboration, and speed of execution to keep up with the high expectations of your customers. New technologies like serverless, JavaScript, and the API economy have opened the door to creating this way, but without the right work culture those innovations are meaningless.

You need to ask yourself:

  • What kind of people should we employ and make responsible for our digital products?
  • What capabilities do they need to be successful?
  • Do they have the mindset to solve problems in an interdisciplinary way?

How to build the right organization: Unify people & decompose tech

There are two key principles that are important when you are setting up your organization for tackling these opportunities.

First, you unify your people. Bring together the right people to build teams that are positioned to drive this change. Companies are insourcing core competencies and prioritizing internal development of teams first before bringing in external specialists to help. Interdisciplinary teams with a diverse set of competencies are being brought together to develop and iterate rapidly, requiring new tools that enable this level of collaboration.

These teams typically consist of:

  • Product managers who know that digital differentiation is how you win customers.
  • Marketers who understand that marketing has become part of the product.
  • Developers who understand serverless, APIs, cloud services and new front end technologies.
  • Designers who bring an interdisciplinary mindset to work with developers and content strategists, understand how you need to work iteratively, and how content should be separated from design.
  • Content strategists who understand how content can be treated as a source of truth and a valuable asset, creating the right structured relationships and collaborative access to content so it can play multiple roles across an organization.

Second, you decompose your business into disparate parts that can be joined together and reconfigured as the market requires. In the era of APIs, every part of your business should be programmable and decentralized. This enables API logic to be deployed across your entire organization, so you can operate from a single source of truth and move more quickly. This also requires abstracting away complexity so all teams can work together, with clear interfaces for integration, collaboration, and iteration.

The CMS model is outdated

Smart professionals that understand this shift have been looking for ways to break silos and increase interoperability inside companies for years.

But the content industry has been one of the biggest bottlenecks to this kind of innovation.

New frontend technologies like React, serverless, and APIs, often referred to as the Jamstack, have already decoupled digital experiences from the old monolithic approach, enabling teams to build richer and better product experiences on digital surfaces.

However, content management systems have fallen short of innovating in the same manner. We are coming from monolithic solutions that hamper business velocity with rigid content models, linking content to design and as such creating content that has been locked into singular use cases for the organization. There’s no reusability, no single source of truth, and the cycles of releasing new ideas, new content and new designs are slowing companies down, limiting their ability to meet their customers and directly and indirectly hampering revenue. It is mind boggling that in a traditional CMS, the same product description has to be manually copy-pasted between landing pages, catalogs, email newsletters, and becomes out of date the instant any edits are made.

As front-end technology has moved on, CMSs have added capabilities to deliver content through APIs, in the so-called “Headless model”. This is a step in the right direction, as it enables use of modern front-end technologies, but there is still a fundamental lack of innovation in the content and the backend itself. There’s still no real-time collaboration, no ability to customize workflow. Most importantly, because content isn’t programmable and interoperable, content velocity is low and keeps declining over time.

Reimagining the approach to Content

To meet the requirements of future organizations, modern content solutions have to enable a programmatic approach to content.

We see the content platforms of the future taking a different approach:

  • Redefining the way we think about content
    • Separate content from design so they can be mixed, mashed, and reshaped into new formats in real time.
    • Think about content as a valuable record of truth in the organization that enables modern composable business to iterate and develop fast.
    • Free your organization from thinking content should be locked into single use cases but rather invest in structuring and sharing your content across the organization through APIs, not excel sheets.
  • Content is Data
    • Enables reusability of content types and a programmatic approach that dramatically reduces manual processes and frees up human brain power.
    • Modern developer tooling empowers technologists to write algorithms for leveraging this new approach to content.
    • Built to integrate with product data and other sources of data in your organization.
    • Enable integrations with other APIs and enable humans and machines to work together in concert.
  • Break Silos to Unify
    • Bring all disciplines in an organization together - in real time - no content locked for editing.
    • Enable rich custom workflows and iterative working between disciplines.
    • Enable different parts of your organization to share content from a single source of truth.

See the keynote presentation from our Content Is Data event:

Sanity - The Platform for Structured Content

Sanity is the only platform that lets you unify and treat content as data in this manner. Our vision since we started building Sanity has been to prepare for and accelerate this future.

How do we do this? The building blocks of Sanity are designed to seamlessly distribute content across all disciplines within an organization:

  • Content Lake. The foundation that makes everything else possible. Hosted content APIs let you work with structured content to orchestrate that content across your organization and push it to any channel. Not only can you structure your content so it's programmatically available, but it also offers advanced real time APIs for reading and writing to the content.
  • Sanity Studio. A programmable, extendible interface that’s user-friendly enough for contributors at any technical level to author, shape, and leverage your organization’s content, knowing that they’re working with the most up-to-date information that everyone else is working with. This enables real-time collaboration and the ability to treat the customer experience as a living, breathing organism.
  • Developer Experience. Sanity gives developers the freedom to use their ecosystem of preferred tools to connect services, frontends, apps, scripts, or devices to our APIs. It’s a high-leverage environment that levels up for front-end developers or enables deep back-end work with full stack developers. Thanks to Content Lake, content is easily queryable with Sanity’s GROQ language or GraphQL. And our growing, friendly community of thousands of developers are here to learn, build, and share with you.

What does “Content Is Data” really mean? As product and marketing is converging within organizations, all tools become part of the product tech stack. By bringing database thinking into the CMS space, we remove old modes of thinking around content as HTML and objects that are non-queryable and non-parsable. The elements of Content As Data are:

  • Structured Content. Sanity is built on the premise that we should structure content by its properties, not how it’s presented. This is the foundation of reusability and unlocks integrations that make work easier for your designers, editors, and developers.
  • Portable Text: Headless CMSs can claim to work with structured content, but still lock rich text content into HTML or Markdown. That means a significant chunk of your content doesn’t present well on non-web platforms and is difficult to query. It’s not even a great match for modern component-based frontend frameworks. Portable Text is a presentation-agnostic format that makes it possible not only to build collaborative rich text experiences, but makes it fully queryable. It lets you embed rich data structures and references to documents that’s indexed in the Content Lake.
  • GROQ: GraphQL is a pattern that’s great for specific use cases where you want to be prescriptive about what’s returned from the API. But it’s too limited to fully tap into the power that structured content gives you. That’s why we designed GROQ as a flexible query language that enables you to freely query, shape and transform your content into any format you need. With GROQ you can explore, audit, and innovate with your content without implementing new resolvers or migrating that content. You can even build GraphQL APIs with GROQ, because that’s exactly how our GraphQL offering works.
  • Patches and mutations: Many headless systems only let you change content through vendor-controlled user interfaces. Sanity gives you full access to all the APIs that Sanity Studio uses, including the patching and mutations endpoints. You can send highly specific patches in real time that don’t lock your editors out while they’re working. This is an important factor to working with content as data that we see most vendors don’t have.

With all the above elements in place, you will be able to treat content as data, and you have a platform for structured content. What’s great about using such a platform is that it is limitless, with only your imagination as the upper bound. It is flexible enough to work with where your business is right now, friendly to legacy technology as you adapt to newer tools, yet it is ready to charge ahead when you’re ready without holding you back.

We’ve barely started executing on our grand vision for reinventing the content space and helping you take charge of navigating the changes happening in the world. We’re committed to pushing the boundaries on what you should expect from a content platform and help you amaze others with what’s possible.

We’re excited to see what the future holds for Structured Content, with the goal for Sanity to be the key driver fueling this evolution. We are only just getting started!