What is the state of the CMS?

Thanks to the humble content management system, the concept of having to hand-code individual webpages has fallen by the wayside. But have our standards of what makes a CMS “good,” or useful changed over the years since?

To help answer that, we’re going to dive into the history and definition of the term “content management system.”

What is a Content Management System?

A content management system is a piece of software/an application designed to streamline the creation, editing, and publishing of online content.
Think that sounds kind of vague? So do a lot of people. In fact, the CMS community often debates whether platforms like WordPress, Tumblr, or even SquareSpace can be properly classified by the term.

Do these platforms make it easy to create, edit, and publish content? You’d better believe it, especially when you take a look at some of their predecessors:

A brief history of the CMS


Back in the mid 1990’s, as the Internet was first gaining steam, it became clear to marketers and developers that there was a need for tools that made “getting on the web” simpler.

Marketing firms began to develop a series of tools that made it easier to add, edit, and manage online content without having to code every webpage from scratch. These tools, nothing more than a series of HTML templates, did not even include a WYSIWYG editor. (A visual text editor, similar to what you would experience in word processing software.)

Early incarnations of the CMS, such as Roxen and Vignette, were incredibly archaic compared to what we know today. They required coding knowledge, and were hard to maintain.

Early 00’s

When we hit the early 00’s the archaic CMS began to fade away as software companies and communities formed, specializing in making it easier to interact with website content. It was around this time when the WYSIWYG editor became more of a standard, while search, and specialized tools began to be built into the software.

Mambo, and DotNetNuke were two of the more popular CMS’ of the time. (Trivia: Mambo later became Joomla!)

Late 00’s

The idea of the CMS transformed once again when even more platforms hit the main stage, promising more feature depth, flexibility, and user accessibility by design. This was around the time that the open source movement hit the mainstream, combating established “for profit” CMS development houses.


We have now reached a point where the idea of what constitutes a CMS has fragmented into a series of four major deviations:

  1. Open Source self-hosted
  2. For profit self-hosted
  3. Open Source hosted
  4. For profit hosted

Does that mean that the definition of “content management system” has changed?

No, not really. The goals of these deviations remains the same, with a strong focus on making the creation, editing, and management of website content a simple process. While there does seem to be a trend for companies offering “hosted” SaaS-like CMS solutions, there doesn’t seem to be a reason for the end-user to fear the end of the CMS itself.

The CMS is simply transforming, once again.

Stay tuned.

We’ll be following up this post with a new recurring series, called “State of the CMS.” The series will cover news, comparisons, and performance-related tips and tricks for both the major and new players in the world of CMS development.

If you liked what you read, and are looking forward to more, please tell us in the comments below or by tweeting @UptrendsMonitor!

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