A Brief History Of The Content Management System

The Content Management System has evolved from a single static page to the large variety of CMS platforms we see today.

Content management system is a well-known type of software that covers a range of different applications that help to create and modify digital content.

A Brief History Of The Content Management System

As digital content is closely linked to the rise of the internet and the first website, so is the way we manage content on these sites.

We take a closer look at the incredible evolution of the content management system.

The Beginnings Of The Internet

The very first official website of the internet was created by Tim Berners-Lee in the early 90s. The site was simple HTML with just a few links and some text.

And this was the fundamental beginning of the internet. The world wide web started with static pages and sites that just displayed content without any need to manage a larger database in the background.

These simple sites didn’t require a lot of computing resources which made them much faster to load. 

There was no need to render any templates, process database queries or client-server requests.

The simplicity of these first pages is almost unimaginable today, but the low number of people using the internet back then, meant there was little web traffic.

The Rise Of The CMS

The popularity of the world wide web increased significantly from the early to the mid-nineties.

Suddenly, there was a greater need to update websites more frequently, which meant that static pages were slowly phased out.

The first CMS products flooding the market at the time, such as StoryBuilder, Documentum and FileNet, were all closed source products which means they were all developed by someone who then allowed other users to use them but the users couldn’t change anything in the CMS code itself.

This was a fairly standard practice for the time but in the early 2000s, the first open-source CMS platforms started to emerge.

Some of these were names that we know well today, including WordPress, Joomla and Drupal.

Just like today, WordPress offered a large archive of plugins and templates that you could use to build a website without any knowledge of CSS or HTML.

The Rise Of The CMS

Many experts believe today that WordPress’ popularity then and today was facilitated by the fact that it was open source which means developers could use the WordPress code and adapt it to whatever they needed to do for their site.

Even today, you will find that the majority of websites are built on one of these first generation content management systems.

They include everything you need to manage a website, from front-end templates, plugins and backend user interface to a database, web server and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).

This means that when a user opens a website page, a server sends a signal to the CMS database, and all the data, including text, images and all the page’s design features, are then displayed in the browser.

The Move To LAMPstack

With the ever-increasing amount of content on websites, databases became a lot more important. These databases were created in line with infrastructure that was built on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP/Perl/Python) stack.

This development allowed website developers to deliver a range of dynamic content through database queries.

The simplistic, static sites sitting on one server were slowly phased out and replaced by sites that used individual HTML, JavaScript and CSS files to display all content to end users who wanted to view a web page.

The Drive Towards A Mobile Web Changes Everything

In the 2000s, the first mobile devices, such as Blackberry and Palm, that allowed access to internet content started to appear.

Ten years later, the introduction of tablets and smartphones meant that more and more users could get access to the web on the go.

It was in 2016 when the scales tipped from the use of desktop to mobile devices.

This posed a problem to the web developer community as many of the existing content management systems were simply not equipped to serve content to different devices.

This would require different versions of websites that needed to be displayed to users across different devices.

The problem grew even worse when other web-ready devices, such as gaming consoles, smartwatches and voice assistants, came onto the market.

The need for omnichannel content delivery became more and more apparent each year.

The Emergency Of JAMstack And Headless CMS

The Emergency Of JAMstack And Headless CMS

Traditional content management systems were designed in a way that both the frontend (what the website user sees) is closely linked with the backend (what the website manager sees, such as databases, files and content).

The development of the headless CMS changes this connection. Backend and frontend are detached from each other, and headless content management systems use API calls to pull content from a database.

This means that any kind of content and files can be accessed on desktop websites, smartphones and any other Internet of Things (IOT) devices.

Headless content management systems are ideally suited for the JAM (Javascript, API, and Markup) stack architecture.

It provides much better website performance, and even search engines have picked up on the mobile trend ranking mobile-friendly content much higher.

JAMstack is said to be more secure and much faster as there is no need to query a database. With this infrastructure, a website can be displayed immediately.

The monolithic CMS platforms of the past have slowly started to change their approach and development structures to adapt to this emerging trend.

Many developers however believe that the way we show websites will change more and more, and older systems will make way for platforms with a SaaS approach or self-hosted open source platforms.

This does not just apply to content-only sites but also eCommerce stores, where headless CMS disrupt the market with true omnichannel functionality.

Personalization Is The Future

So, what does the future hold for our content management systems? 

Just as the past, the future of CMS is closely tied with how we use online content.

Large corporations, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, firmly believe that the future is in machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Many of these companies invest in AI-research divisions but machine learning and artificial intelligence already impact the way people manage content.

There are already some specific personalization tools that can speed up processes, provide suitable digital experiences to a website user and also integrate content into the network of the world wide web.

Going forward, businesses and companies focus on using the data they have wisely and target customers with a specific, personalized experience.


The content management system has gone through so many evolutionary changes. 

From static pages that hardly needed updating to more and more content which requires constant updates to stay relevant in a busy digital world.

CMS had to adapt to the ever-changing ways we view content on the internet but with the growing volumes of content, the evolution of CMS is likely not to come to an end anytime soon.

In the light of irrelevant content flooding our daily life, companies seek to make a user’s experience more meaningful, and this can only be achieved when content management systems give content managers and developers the means to do this. 


Ollie Wilson

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