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I usually find that I understand technology a bit better if I understand the background behind its development. It helps me get a handle on the underlying technology, how it's evolved, and the motivations behind its creation. For example, when people discuss web- based content management, they often talk about things like the desire for the separation of content structure and the success of bringing web publishing to non-technical users. While both of these goals are admirable, they're actually byproducts of the very organic growth of online content management.
As one would expect, web content management systems can trace their origins to traditional content management systems, specifically those that serve the print industry. By the mid '90s many CMSs had sprung up to assist large printing houses and corporations in managing and assembling documents from stored content. As web sites and the content within them became more complex, it stands to reason that the people behind these sites would begin the search for a similar way to manage their online content. At this time, the Internet was changing in a fundamental way from what was largely a collection of static web sites to a growing number of dynamic sites that stored information in databases and updated content on a daily basis.
This change created the need for a more sophisticated content solution, especially for larger sites. Now although Microsoft and Lotus both have products that allow users to manage online content, nothing really existed in the way of today's CMSs. In the mid '90s, the founders of CNET needed a better way to control the publishing and content management of their wildly successful technology news site. Inspired by advances in the publishing field, they built a system that used templates to assemble pages from a relational database.
It also contained features like the ability to personalize the resulting sites and repurpose site content. They name their system Presentation of Real-Time Interactive Service Material, or PRISM for short. It not only made creating and maintaining the CNET site much easier; it attracted the attention of Vignette, a software services company that was attempting to develop a similar system. Vignette purchased PRISM from CNET, merged it with their system, and released it as StoryServer, making it one of, if not the first, online content management tool to enter the marketplace.
The remainder of the '90s saw an explosion of proprietary content management systems that soon produce a very crowded marketplace. Although feature sets varied, one of the things that the majority of these systems have in common was their proprietary nature. Clients had to pay for the system and typically had it customized to fit their needs. For the most part CMS sites were limited to the larger, enterprise-level clients that could afford such services. Around 2000 the growing popularity of the LAMP Stack offered an opportunity to change all of that.
LAMP is an acronym that stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP, products that when combined allowed individuals to create powerful general purpose web servers. These free open-source programs revolutionized many industries and resulted in an explosion of hosting companies, open- source software, and do-it-yourself solutions. The CMS marketplace was directly affected by this development with the release of products like Drupal in 2001 and Joomla! in 2005. These free open-source CMSs offered an alternative to the growing commercial field and quickly developed a large support community that continues to improve and extend those platforms.
At the same time, other CMSs were revolving as well, usually as a result of maturing online markets, products like WordPress, MovableType, and ExpressionEngine evolved out of the blogging community and have gone onto become powerful CMSs in their own right. Solutions now range from free open- source platforms to extremely customized enterprise-level solutions with an amazing range of features, capabilities and subject matter focus in between. Although the phrase gets used a lot, there really is something for everyone in the world of content management systems.
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