So imagine a wrestling match, perhaps even one of those staged Hulk Hogan ‘80s TV matches.
In one corner, you have Adobe Experience Manager (known as “AEM,” pronounced in wrestling circles only as “AyyyyyyM!”) that is bulked up and ready to fight any other wrestler. Roar!
In the other corner, you have Contentful – screamed by the wrestlers as “con-TEEEEEEEEENT-ful” – the David (against Goliath) and newcomer in the corner, but who has been practicing non-stop for this fight. Oh and some of the smartest people out there have been betting real money – to the tune of a billion dollar valuation! – on this little guy.
Who wins the fight?
Well, we’re not going to declare winners or losers today but instead look at the strength and weakness of each. (That’s right, we’re building the hype!)
But as this fight is not just interesting – as UV has worked closely and deeply with both platforms – we have a few thoughts on the strengths and weaknesses of each. Let’s take a look!
(And I’m an unbiased observer because I happen to be partial to the old-school charm of WordPress myself!)
Let’s go through a few key differences, and see who is stronger or weaker on each.
User experience (for the content creators)
Said simply, which platform is more of a joy to use for the writers, editors, and admins – all low-tech – who are everyday users of the system?
The hands down, smack down, “stay pinned down to the floor!”, overwhelming winner here is Contentful. Not only in our experience, but in talking to others in the market, the user interface is simple and modern… even when using the more complex features.
Indeed, the user experience is so smooth that some might say that Contentful is first and foremost, above all, a user experience play. Comparable to how Google was when it was first released: the empty white screen with only a search bar in the middle, as compared to the busy confusion of, say, Yahoo or Altavista. (Kids do you even remember those?)
In our metaphor here – no, not the wrestling metaphor but the Google-in-2001 metaphor – AEM is the equivalent of Yahoo or Altavista. The big, overly complex incumbent.
Specifically, the classic complaint about AEM is that it has world-class, world-leading enterprise functionality… but no one can figure out how to do everything.
This may be by design: with great power comes great responsibility and they want to make it harder to make a mistake.
Or perhaps because AEM (unlike Contentful) keeps the content and the design layers fully separate, that leads to very counterintuitive ways to design and bring them together.
But even if there’s a method behind the madness (Hi, Dane!)…. Contentful wins the day here.
Ability to do real changes without devs
AEM is so powerful, guess what any editor (with the corresponding permissions) can do: really, any reasonable or realistic design changes they want.
With built-in design resources up the wazoo – this is Adobe, after all! – any layman can come in and on any page make sophisticated design updates. No expensive devs you pay a gazillion dollars per minute needed.
Contentful has the opposite problem. It is a “headless” system which means that this isn’t a bug, but a feature. It’s by design!
What is “headless”? It’s a platform that does all the back-end heavy lifting, including (for CMSs) the editor’s panels. But it only exposes APIs so that the front-end developers can really build anything they want, just getting all the info they need directly from the APIs.
While that’s really powerful and hipster cool, and it also gives the developers much more power and flexibility to do what they want, it does have a downside: to do pretty much anything (or anything non-trivial), you need a developer.
It’s like driving a car vs riding a bicycle: Yes, anyone can ride a bicycle. You may fall off at first but you’ll figure it out. But to drive a car? You need to learn the rules of the road, what all the gears and buttons do, take classes, get licensed – and then you can do it. Much more work and hassle. But cars can go much further than bicycles can.
First round conclusion
If we strip away lots of other details, and come down to the two core value propositions of each, we see that fundamentally, there is a choice between greater power vs greater ease of use. Adobe Experience Manager wins on the former, and Contentful on the later. So choosing the right one is, essentially, choosing which side of these two you need to be on.
And of course taking into account a dozen other factors, from cost to speed of implementation to bugginess and so forth. But those are subjects for another day!
If you’re considering either Adobe Experience Manager or Contentful, I’m happy to talk! We’ve built dozens of sites in both and are happy to think through more carefully what might be right for you. Just drop me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org