Blog, Our Thinking

Headless Frontiers – A CTO’s Perspective

Joe Baskerville on headless technologies

Since StoryStream’s beginnings back in 2012, our technology has been used and embedded on some of the world’s most high-traffic websites. Used in over 130 countries, we serve hundreds of millions of impressions monthly. With that kind of exposure, it’s paramount that we’re consistently looking our best (both from a UX and uptime perspective!).

SaaS, as we know, is a radically dynamic market; an engine of disruption that rewards quick innovation – and keen learners. So throughout our time as a business, it’s remained as true for us as it does for others that a well-resourced, well-motivated development team will always form the backbone of a successful SaaS venture.

Speed-to-market is one factor; but equally so is the speed of adaptation. SaaS buyers’ wants, motivations, and concerns change in tandem with the market’s broader trends and innovations: at StoryStream, we’ve increasingly seen how factors like page weight and speed are just as important to customer teams as the eCommerce functionality we provide (it’s hard to remember a time pre-Core Web Vitals).

The suite of advanced eCommerce functionality we bring to market is the combined effort of a lot of talented people. And we’re proud that, over the past four years, our Engineering team has had 100% staff retention, all while growing by 120% (and our company headcount growing by over 50% outside that team).

Over the course of StoryStream’s first decade, our Production team – encompassing developers, designers, and product management – has needed to constantly iterate; in terms of both the work we’re producing and the structure of the team itself. Here I want to take a look at the opportunities presented by the eCommerce market’s increasing receptiveness to composable technology stacks and headless architectures; a new phase for SaaS that’s as exciting for the teams creating the technology as the people buying it…

Where we’re going, you don’t need … heads?

Headless technology – alternatively called “headless architecture” or a “headless CMS” – refers to an approach in software development where the front-end and back-end components of an application are decoupled and operate independently. In a traditional web application, the front-end and back-end are tightly integrated, with the back-end responsible for both managing the content and delivering it to the front-end for display.

In contrast, headless technology separates the presentation layer (front-end) from the content management and delivery layer (back-end). This means that the content management system does not dictate how the content is presented to the end-user. Instead, it provides the content via an API, and the front-end consumes this content to render it in the desired format.

In a headless architecture, the back-end content management system typically focuses solely on managing and organising the content, while the front-end can be developed using any technology stack or framework that best suits the requirements. This flexibility allows developers to create rich and engaging user experiences across various platforms, such as websites, mobile apps, smart devices, or even digital signage.

Brands use StoryStream to create dynamic social proof experiences that aren’t achievable within the bounds of standard web CMS platforms. Our platform is a straightforward means by which to source, manage and distribute content – be that content User-generated (UGC), influencer-created, brand-originated, or third-party sourced (think: reviews from media publishers). Brands then leverage that technology to produce a number of experiences: across their web or eCommerce site (homepages, PDPs, inspiration pages), Link-in-bio, guided customer testimonials, and even shoppable commerce streams (think “QVC for the digital age”). To put it mildly, there’s a lot under the hood.

StoryStream offers a number of ways to easily integrate and publish dynamic content into existing website platforms. There are two routes to delivering content assets (both earned and owned content): via StoryStream Content Module embed, and via Direct API delivery.

It’s in APIs that we’re seeing customers increasingly connect the dots around the opportunities that StoryStream’s technology presents (you can read more about content syndication here). And, for our team, that’s a fantastic opportunity in itself: working with APIs makes separating concerns (front-end, back-end, data, etc.) simple, driving serious agile benefits in teams, while giving ownership of those discrete disciplines to the right domain experts.

And as the market becomes increasingly dominated by API-driven microservices, I’m also excited by the speed at which new team members can also pick up focused domain expertise. Gone are the days when orientating a new colleague to a legacy monolithic codebase takes days into weeks into months; team members are now able to get up to speed, take ownership, and release their work quickly (and often).

We are what we do…

Headless opens up a whole variety of flexible options in how StoryStream’s solutions are delivered to customers. With a headless CMS, content can be created, modified, and delivered independently of the front-end – enabling faster content updates (i.e. StoryStream experiences across all parts of an eCommerce website; dynamic UGC matched to PDPs is a fantastic use case). But that philosophy isn’t tied to just one channel: headless architecture facilitates content delivery to multiple channels. Using APIs, the same content can be distributed to different front-end applications (e.g. on-site, in-app, via email, even physical screens), ensuring consistent messaging and user experiences across various platforms.

Microservices and scalability: headless technology aligns well with a microservices architecture, where each component operates independently and can be scaled individually. It allows teams to work on different parts of the application separately, improving development speed and scalability.

Future-proofing: as new devices and technologies emerge (hello, Vision Pro?), a headless architecture provides the flexibility to adapt and integrate with these advancements without requiring a complete overhaul of the system. It future-proofs the application by enabling easy integration with emerging technologies.

But amongst the excitement around the output, what’s often overlooked is the improved developer experience. Giving developers the freedom to choose the most suitable front-end technologies and frameworks without being limited by the capabilities or constraints of e.g. a content management system promotes precisely the kind of innovation, rapid development, and scalability that StoryStream’s customers have come to expect.


It’s always, of course, important to remember that headless technology may introduce additional complexity compared to traditional web applications, particularly in terms of managing the front-end and ensuring consistent user experiences across different channels. A successful deployment requires teams capable of handling the complexities of integrating the front end with the content management system through APIs.

As a cloud-based technology, StoryStream is able to experiment quickly; we learn lessons fast and use them to inform a programme of continuous improvement. It’s an environment that celebrates innovation.

It’s perhaps an irony that innovation in headless is anything but… it needs a whole team of brains equal to the challenge. At StoryStream, we’re keen to put our people at the very forefront of the opportunities that this new era of innovation opens up.