Notes about Content Management Systems (CMS) – A brief history

¡Comparte en tus redes sociales!
Photo by Ewan Robertson on Unsplash

By Cleyra Uzcátegui

How was Internet before CMS?

Many of you will not be able to imagine how was Internet without the existence of CMS – Content Management System. How was the user experience in terms of management and information consumption?

At that time EVERYTHING was manually.

The documents were converted to HTML manually and a number of additional programs (Photoshop or Adobe Dreamweaver ) were necessary to create and edit the content also if the website grew or it was fed by several people at the same time there was a big possibility of duplication and the process became chaotic, in consequence the content management was slow and complicated. 

The experience in Internet use to be like this 😱designs that gave headaches, pixelated logos, a lot of blue and grey colours and poorly designed templates. (1994) (1995) (1995) (1996)

Milestones for Web Content Management

The history of Web Content Management is extensive and complex but we can talk about some highlights extracted from the post A History of Content Management Systems and the Rise of the Headless CMS (Brent Heslop, 2018)

1989- Tim Berners-Lee created HTML (the standard markup language for creating web pages and web applications).

At that moment, we can talk about Web 1.0 Managing Static Web Content. The Web 1.0 is characterised by simple static websites with plain HTML and very basic functionality. Those kind of websites are very cheap, ideally for clients with just a few pages showing permanent information (Who we are, where we are and services).

At that time, content creators were few with the majority of users acting as a consumers of content. Basically, unidirectional communication because people were limited to viewing content in a passive manner.

1995- Appears the monolithic CMS, a system that incorporates everything required for managing and publishing content to the Web. This type of a CMS is an all-in-one content-management solution.

FileNet introduced a complete integrated document management suite of programs with document imaging, document management, and workflow. Vignette came on the scene in late 1995 with the goal of making web publishing more accessible and more personalized, and is commonly credited for originating the term “content management system.” Many enterprise CMSs began to appear around this time including, Interwoven (1995), Documentum (1996), FatWire (1996), FutureTense (1996), Inso (1996), and EPiServer (1997).

1996- In August 1996, appears CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and the first commercial browser to support it was Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 3.

1997- Microsoft introduced iframes that let you split the HTML browser window into segments, with each frame showing a different document that could be used to display content from other sites, and was popular for presenting ads and banners. The iframe tag brought with it security, navigation, and search engine optimization issues that eventually were addressed.

The turning point came in 1997 as dynamic content came into its own with the introduction of the Document Object Model (DOM). The DOM defines the logical structure of documents that lets you identify and programmatically control parts of a document. The DOM is an application programming interface (API) for HTML and XML documents. For example, the DOM lets you access and manipulate the styles of HTML elements like the entire body (body) or a division (div) on a page.

1999- We started talking about Web 2.0. This term was coined by Darcy DiNucci, an information architecture consultant, in her January 1999 article “Fragmented Future” and later popularized by Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty at the O’Reilly Media Web 2.0 Conference in late 2004.

Some Web 2.0 capabilities were present in the days of Web 1.0, but were implemented differently. For example, a Web 1.0 site may have had a guestbook page for visitor comments, instead of a comment section at the end of each page (typical of Web 2.0).

Dynamic content delivery brought with it new ways to present and interact with content on the Web, with an emphasis on sites being more social. The term Web 2.0 helped define what is also called the participative or participatory and social web. Web 2.0 also refers to the surge in user-generated content and the ease of use to make websites work with other products and systems.

As the web moved from being static brochure sites to interactive sites with dynamic content, the desire for collaboration and fresh, relevant content grew, and the need to manage content came to the forefront. Websites needed to be updated daily, with different people wanting to add and edit content.

2000- By the early 2000s, content management systems dominated the web. Open source content management systems and frameworks began to appear. A framework is a programming library of pre-written code, such as the then-popular Zend framework written in the PHP programming language. OpenCMS, PHP-Nuke, Mambo, WordPress, Drupal, Plone, and Joomla all offered free alternatives for content management. WordPress gained popularity as an open source solution focusing on blog content delivery and letting third-party developers add customizations and extensions. In 2006, Alfresco offered an open source alternative to enterprise content management.

2003- Starting in 2003, easy to use website-building CMS sites offered premade templates for people who had no coding experience, such as WordPress (2003), SquareSpace (2003), followed later by Weebly (2006), and Wix (2006). While not pure content management systems, these building platforms provided a path to building a small, low-cost website that required no knowledge of HTML, CSS, and coding.

2007- In the late 1990s and early 2000s Nokia Symbian, Palm, and Blackberry mobile devices provided access to the Web. However, it wasn’t until the introduction of the iPhone in 2007 and the Android smartphone in 2008 that mobile phones really had an impact on delivering web content. In 2010 smart tablets came on the scene.

This megatrend of delivering content to mobile devices ushered in the mobile web era, which has also been called Web 3.0 to identify the shift from computers and laptops to mobile content delivery. By the beginning of 2014, mobile internet use exceeded desktop use in the U.S.

This rise in content consumption by mobile devices presented a problem for the monolithic CMS that was explicitly created for delivering Web content to desktops and laptops. There was no way to deliver content for both desktop and mobile devices reliably. To address the rise of mobile web usage, developers began creating both desktop and mobile versions of their websites, with mobile designs offering stripped-down versions of select desktop website pages.

2010- Ethan Marcotte introduced the term “responsive design” that promoted a shift in thinking from the fixed design for desktop websites to responsive, fluid, adaptable layouts. To deliver on the promise of responsive design, the W3C created media queries as part of the CSS3 specification. A media query allows developers to ascertain the type of device and inspect the physical characteristics of the device, such as the screen size. For example, using CSS you can use the @media rule to determine what screen size is being used and include a block of CSS properties for that device.

The world of technology is constantly changing affecting the CMS playing field. Today we can talk about the Headless CMS, a topic for another post, but there is no doubt that AI and machine learning are going to play a huge role in the future of content management systems.


A History of Content Management Systems and the Rise of the Headless CMS.Disponible en:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Síguenos en Twitter