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Open source content and knowledge management system

A look ahead to our open-source headless content and knowledge management system

In a little under a month, we will be launching TerminusCMS, an open-source headless CMS to provide businesses with composable architectures and true organization-wide knowledge management. 

TerminusCMS is not like existing headless CMS services such as Contentful which are primarily aimed at brochure websites and e-commerce stores. Our headless CMS is developer-first and is designed to enable engineers to build composable architectures and knowledge management systems for complex environments.

The purpose of this article is to provide you with a better understanding of what TerminusCMS is and where it will fit within an organization. If TerminusCMS resonates with your project requirements, please contact us to discuss your needs to get in the door first.

A brief history about how we got here

Like with most startups, there have been a number of pivots in recent years as we seek our market fit. TerminusDB started life as a schema-supported graph database aimed at providing DataOps to engineers with our Git-like collaboration model. As we evolved and developed new features such as the version 4.0 Document Interface we inadvertently began to broach the CMS space, at the time we even wrote in our community Discord server – 

‘The document interface is basically a "CMS in a box" for terminus data objects. The documents page allows you to filter and order documents of different types, create documents of any type through a simple form, view documents as either JSON-LD or a simple web page, and edit, delete, create and update them with no code.’

Version 10 of TerminusDB saw us move edge closer to becoming a headless CMS provider as users built collaborative and complex applications with TerminusDB and TerminusX as the backend. Following an increase in user activity in the headless space both within our community and the types of applications being built, we decided in June 2022 to focus our efforts to become the leading headless CMS provider giving organizations a composable architecture for business-wide knowledge management.

The next two weeks will see us integrate the past six month’s development into TerminusX and make TerminusCMS available as a Docker compose, complete with cloneable demos to play with.

Standard headless CMS features

TerminusDB is and will continue to be available for those looking to build with our document graph database. TerminusCMS will be available as a separate Docker compose, it will come with new CMS features, that include –

  • Schema model builder – develop with code or user interface
  • GraphQL & REST API endpoints
  • Admin UI
  • Change requests workflows
  • Media library
  • User authentication and management

These are the standard features you would expect from any headless CMS.

Features for composable architectures and knowledge management

What sets TerminusCMS apart from other headless CMS providers are several features that have been in our arsenal for years and extended upon. Built from the database up, TerminusCMS gives devs many features at the database layer without being reliant on third-party data stores or troublesome plugins. The exciting features include –

  • Schema as code – Many CMS providers have invested in slick UIs to build content models and schemas. UIs are great for domains, but from a developer’s perspective, and when schema becomes complicated, are cumbersome and slow. It also causes issues when migrating or cloning schemas. TerminusCMS lets devs build with code to work quickly and efficiently.
  • Semantically enriched and standards-based CMS – Under the hood of TerminusCMS is an RDF graph database that connects JSON documents into a knowledge graph. Developers can model content, asset, and data with relationships to provide context, discoverability, and advanced analytical capabilities.
  • Bridging data and content silos – Headless CMS normally provides storage for content and assets, useful for websites. However, headless CMS can be used for so much more. For instance, using CMS as a composable architecture and knowledge management system necessitates the need to include often hidden transactional and operational data. TerminusCMS helps to bridge the gap between content and data to provide greater power to front-end developers.
  • Custom workflows – Approval workflows and pipelines are built into the database layer and can be completely customized to suit the needs of your organization and the individual working methodologies of your teams. Set specific workflows by user role or content/data type to tailor the way of working to your exact needs.
  • Analytics engine – We have integrated our datalog query language into GraphQL so you can use GraphQL as a full-blown graph query language. The connected graph of content, assets, and data can be analyzed with powerful GraphQL queries to make discovery and analytics available across your content infrastructure. With the advancements seen with OpenAI, get your content and data AI ready from the start.
  • Immutable version control & collaboration – Our bread and butter from the very beginning. TerminusCMS is immutable and has Git-like collaboration features allowing branching, cloning, merging, diff, time-travel, and non-lock collaboration.
  • Authentication from database to front-end – Robust authentication is handled in the database layer so there is no need to integrate other auth providers into front-end apps making it easier and safer to control access.

What are the ideal use cases for TerminusCMS?

TerminusCMS is aimed at large organizations with complex infrastructures. An ideal business is one that wants to understand and manage organization-wide knowledge by integrating interdepartmental data, processes, and content and then making it discoverable and useable internally and externally.

As it’s early days, we don’t have a definitive list of sectors that TerminusCMS is aimed at, but we have a number of customers using TerminusDB as a headless backend for an array of applications and services and a number waiting to get started with TerminusCMS.

Our primary focus, in the beginning, will be to work with developers and consultants who either work for or have large organizations as clients. Much of our development has been driven by the feedback from developers and consultants working on similar projects, and we see TerminusCMS as a perfect fit for –

  • Manufacturing and Engineering – Manufacturers and engineering companies are rich in data, products, and processes. Information about machine performance, product specifications, the supply chain, and distribution channels is spread across different platforms and made available to the relevant people in unconnected ways, causing many issues. TerminusCMS helps to connect disparate teams, provide leadership with a holistic view of operations, and serve relevant data and content to stakeholders.
  • Pharma & Biotech – Pharmaceutical and biotech companies are complex operations. From discovery to launch, there are vast amounts of data, documentation, and content required for researchers, medical professionals, patients, and legislative bodies. TerminusCMS aims to help improve the flow of important data and content between departments, legislators, and patients, by making information discoverable and useable to surface relevant information to stakeholders. It is an auditable CMS for medical companies that need stringent governance.
  • CMS for Compliance – Cybersecurity is at the forefront of policymakers across the world. Ransomware and various other attacks have left major institutions in disarray. Both the EU and the US have plans for rigorous legislation to improve security and reduce the risk of cyber threats. TerminusCMS’s immutability and versioning are ideal for maintaining software bill of materials and vulnerability reports to ensure compliance and to be able to operate in these regions when legislation forces companies to take action.

The list of sectors that can benefit from TerminusCMS and its ability to develop a composable architecture that scales is by no means complete. Other ideas we’ve surfaced include semantically tagged training data for technical documentation so AI can serve customer documentation requirements, interactive blogs where users can branch and create their own twist of the content, and large-scale knowledge bases built collaboratively such as big research projects. The list could go on, and we haven’t even included the basics of brochure websites and e-commerce stores.

Our goal is to provide developers with a headless CMS that makes their jobs easier. No more plugin architectures, no more security flaws, and no more dread of being dragged into a CMS project. Less time firefighting, more time building great things.

If you think of areas where TerminusCMS would sit nicely, we’d love to hear from you, we’re a small team so ideas are always welcomed warmly. If you’ve got projects that you think TerminusCMS could help you with, get in touch and we can provide you with a demo prior to its release.


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