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I ran my own blog from November 2006 till October 2014. All posts are still online, but I don't have time to update it anymore. Please note that all images and media files have been removed when the backup was moved to a new host in early 2016. Enjoy!

Are Content Management Systems Dead?

17. january 2008

A few years ago everyone was talking about content management systems. In fact there was a real hype, and most websites were expected to quickly move to CMS technology. But today it seems the CMS hype is fading - so where's the content management system technology heading, and what should one expect from a CMS today?

Let's start with a short history of web editors. In the beginning (early 1990s), web pages were usually hand coded in HTML (which is, by the way, still done by many web developers and SEO experts today). When the web became more popular in the mid 1990s, first web page and website editors appeared (offline applications).

But these editors had a few problems - first of all, they were not template based, which means that all pages had to be edited manually when the template was changed. Server Side Includes (SSI) and similar technologies could help, but they were not very practicable for beginners. The second big problem was the fact that these editors changed pages locally on the user's computer and didn't offer and versioning system, which means that they didn't allow multiple users to edit the website at the same time. Pages had to be uploaded manually to the server, most times using an FTP client. Standalone web editors are still used for personal websites by many individuals today, such as Microsoft FrontPage or Adobe Dreamweaver for example.

Some people already experimented with online editors in the mid 1990s - Ward Cunningham for example, who then developed the first wiki, a technology which has now become largely popular (modern versions are used to power large scale projects like Wikipedia, and there's also a certain number of special purpose wikis such as the Galaxiki online wiki galaxy for example).

In the late 1990s web content management systems (WCMS) became popular. Such a content management system (CMS) is a software that generally runs on the server (a so called web application) and allows to create and manage HTML content. Usually a CMS supports page templates (templates and page code are separated elements), offers versioning and backup tools and allowes multiple persons to edit the site simultaneously. With content management systems it finally became possible to efficiently manage large scale websites (hundreds or thousands of pages). A CMS also allows non-technical users to make changes to pages and reducdes administrative tasks.

Today there's a large number of both open source (JoomlaTypo3...) and commercial content management systems. Commercial solutions often also offer application server features, workflow management tools and load balancing technology. There was a real CMS hype from 2000 to 2005, but it seems that his hype rapidly declined with the appearance of web 2.0. So what happened?

First of all most content management systems were probably still too complicated for non-technical end users - also remember that some CMS are difficult to install and require specific hosting solutions. What end users really needed was the easiest possible solution. And then blogs arrived - in fact a blog can be considered to be a greatly simplified CMS, blogs have a lot in common with traditional content management systems as they are both template based and allow editing content online. Enterprise class features are missing, but on the other hand they offer feedback options and that's what most end users are looking for. We can be quite sure that content management systems lost most of their potential market to blogs.

Online stores often use dedicated solutions (such as oscommerce for example) and very specific web applications still need to be custom made and can't rely on simple content management systems. So what's left? Open source content management systems are still popular, high end enterprise solutions are still required for high traffic sites (NPS6 Fiona for example) and some custom solutions (OLEFA for the education market for example) also survived.

After all, content management systems are not dead at all, but the original hype vanished and today there is a more realistic view. There are also other solutions that allow to create and manage websites, such as wikis and blogs for example. Traditional CMS technology is still progressing and it's still needed, but it's used where really required, while nobody expects content management systems to dominate the web any more.