The heart of Magnolia 5.6

Published on December 4, 2017 by Rasmus Skjoldan


After releasing a major version of Magnolia, it’s always incredibly exciting to see the reaction and adoption. It’s also a phase where we look at what went well and what we can do better. One of the most important aspects of what we think went really well about 5.6 is the concept of hybrid headless

Just for a second, think beyond software here. Think about cities. If you speak to a city planner, they will tell you that it is a crucial to know what constitutes the heart of the city they’re remodelling—or even architecting from scratch. Software is no different. You need to nurture a heart within your application. That’s the place you point your users to—and the core concept you hope they will reap benefits from.

For Magnolia 5.6, hybrid headless is that very heart of the release.

I’ll tell you why we thought that was a good idea—but first let’s take another brief look outside the details of the Magnolia release. The answer to why “hybrid headless” hides behind another interesting question.  


Why can’t more CMSes make both developers and marketers happy?

Why do most CMSes fail to strike the balance between being a great developer tool and a powerful marketer instrument?

CMSes have always been about bringing technology and content together. Yet in order to produce well-functioning software, every vendor had to institute and maintain an incredibly strong technical culture, internally. This has been the case since the dawn of CMSes—and it is as important today as it was in 1999. 

Every time a CMS vendor lost its way and let its technical culture and heritage slide, the entire company would eventually collapse. No customer can accept unstable, downright buggy or architecturally weak software. That’s why every single thriving CMS in the world goes to such great lengths to safeguard their technical culture. 

If you evaluate CMSes, do what you can to get a realistic view on the state of their tech teams.

So the reason many software vendors have a hard time making both developers and marketers happy at the same time simply is that it’s incredibly tough to establish an internal culture that attracts both tech and marketing heroes.

Software will inevitably cater most to the customer team that mirrors the culture of the vendor.


Magnolia and the shift toward marketing

For many years, Magnolia has grown a remarkable technical culture. That’s led to release after release being adopted and recognized by peers on the outside. IT teams on the customer's side and strong partner development teams embraced the concepts of Magnolia. Same goes for plenty of our best competitors.

But on the buying side, it’s a well-established truth that procuring a CMS is nowadays carried out by a much more diverse group than in the past. Here are some of the scenarios that we are seeing:

  • Marketing departments ask IT to evaluate a CMS for them
  • Customers form procurement groups with representatives from engineering, marketing, business, devops, digital, editorial
  • Marketing departments who have revved up their technology competences select the CMS themselves
  • Partners bring in their CMS of choice (after having invested heavily in system know-how) 

And yes… first-class, savvy and mature IT departments who either love Java and/or want to empower or scale up their front-end teams

The market picture is not a clean one. It’s not like “oh, now it’s only marketing buying our products”—or “we’re still just strong whenever the CTO takes the lead”. Customers have become so much more mature in their procurement processes and their evaluation of CMSes.

That’s the story of what Magnolia—and every other CMS vendor—is currently reacting to.


Why hybrid headless?

“Pure headless is rarer than you think,” wrote Deane Barker in a response to Magnolia product manager Christopher Zimmermann’s excellent blog post about the nuts and bolts of hybrid headless. That’s consistent with what many of our customers have told us in interviews. They don’t want pure headless—but front-end-focused headless power and strong marketing features at the same time.

Hybrid headless means focusing on the balance point between developers and marketers. We strive to make them both happy. And we aim to strengthen the collaboration between them. To Magnolia, it’s not about being either a developer’s dream—or a marketer’s no. 1 Christmas wish—but about producing software that actively fosters collaboration between the two sides.

To achieve that balance, Magnolia has worked hard to bring a new equilibrium to our own culture. We want to cater to both developers and marketers—and facilitate their collaboration. So that means that we needed to form such a culture internally as well. 

Both the release of the Stories app in 5.5.6 and our hybrid headless focus of 5.6, with the mix of enhanced REST and powerful tagging—is all proof of how we’re doing our utmost to strike that balance.

Hybrid headless enables developers to mix headless and more traditional content management techniques in a very flexible manner. Marketers get the previews when they need it, to empathize with their end users—and developers get all the benefits of working in headless mode.

We believe that a winning CMS in the next years is the one that strikes the balance—and not the ones that lean too heavily to one side. 


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About the author Rasmus Skjoldan

Rasmus Skjoldan is Lead Product Manager at Magnolia. He brings a wealth of experience in the area of content hubs and omnichannel content management to the table. A former brand manager of TYPO3, Rasmus was user experience lead of the TYPO3 Neos open source project before running Cope, a Copenhagen-based content strategy consultancy.

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