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A (brief) history of CMS development

Author -  Labyrinth Solutions

A (brief) history of CMS development

Looking back over the history of CMS development it seems there are three clear phases in the time since the late 1990s when the first internet websites were hard coded and published online.

The early years

Claims about what or who wrote the first CMS are many and varied including Roxen (1994) and Blitzen (mid 90s), Ingeniux (1999) and Vignette. The main features were a very structured development environment and you had to use tags and templates because there was no WYSIWYG. Clients had to be pretty technology-savvy, if you couldn’t do HTML you probably weren’t going to edit your site.

Happily they are all now quietly consigned to the site redevelopment waste basket.

Most were written by web design agencies rather than software companies and every agency had their own - until they worked out that it was probably not a core skill and so with the crash came a refocus as most marketing agencies pulled back from coding development and focusing on design [which most did better than code anyway].

Vern Imrich frorm Percussion puts it neatly “Back in the late 90s the concept was too undefined - part app dev, part portal and tons of “Web 1.0” bloat, you name it, you could build it!”

Rebuilding during the noughties

The second stage of CMS development was led by software houses who took over the functionality ideation and started to build the grandaddies of today’s CMS. Key features which were slowly built in included WYSIWYG text editing; search, improved HTML and the addition of features like survey tools and podcasts.

The growth of the specialists was led by early stage leader, RedDot and others like DotNetNuke and Mambo which later metamporphosed into Joomla and like DotNetNuke is still around today.

This was when the open source movement got started, deterred by the multi-thousand dollar fees for enterprise software and so a split between paid and free applications developed which continues to this day.

Choice burgeoned and CMS got feature-rich. Every website needed a CMS and so web agencies needed both the techie skills as well as designers to adapt each client site into the CMS frameworks.

Suddenly, software coders ruled the roost and their skill enabled many designers to access web platforms but conversely, this limited the range of designs that were possible.

As the opensource movement got going, the skills of coders and designers divided on one side into templates for popular open source apps like Wordpress coming to the fore. Built by coders but implemented by designers by the end of this period many agencies were using designers to create the site layouts but having their work put into place by coders.

Today the industry split into enterprise document management (EDMS) and web content management (WCMS) which itself is further divided into free, opensource and paid-for solutions. The number of CMS systems available is high and has become even more segmented. Each application is targeted broadly at enterprise, mid-sized companies or small firms/private use; the bottom end dominated by free software like Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal and SilverStripe. Coders’ favourite free applications include Umbraco, Contao and ModX; a proliferation of opensource offerings now has its own annual market share report and active global developer communities.

Getting to the next stage for CMS

We are once again at a turning point for content management but this time the ‘pivot’ is based on an individual’s ability to code versus their skill at design.

This shift has been brought about by some well publicised hacks on opensource platforms leading commentators to question the appropriateness of open source for commercial use. Its ubiquity it has become a haven for hackers keen to earn their spurs by disabling sites and inserting malware into ecommerce platforms to harvest credit card details.

At the same time, a move away from coders and back to design-led website development has been enabled by the new third generation of web CMS tools. The key features are

  • a hosted platform
  • resold exclusively by design agencies or affiliates
  • integration with CRM, database, e-commerce, email as modules not plug-ins
  • Modular development so there’s minimal custom coding for integration
  • SaaS pricing model including reseller/affiliate earnings

Principal players in this are Contegro, Basekit and CushyCMS with Adobe’s offering, Business Catalyst, a high profile, but somewhat criticised leader at present.

Becoming designer-led illustrates the growing separation for the CMS industry between software written for professional web designers and those for the opensource coder market or blog-writing consumers and the variation in expertise and expectations for support offerings.

Mikal Ali HYPERLINK says “Times "are-a-changing", web development includes a lot more these days not just open source communities where "you" can do cool stuff no one else can. [Business Catalyst] allows the "new web developer" to actually help the client make money with a few very good integrated tools that seem to get better all the time.”

What in the past had to be done with server-side, back-end code is now achievable with front end client-side code. This is highly accessible and should now be part of the competency of a modern website designer.

Let battle commence for the fourth wave of CMS development.

Where will you take yours next?

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