Web content management is constantly in a state of flux. As a discipline, it rides on the back of the Internet itself, and as the Internet landscape changes, content management changes with it.
In writing this book, I’ve had to navigate the blurry line between what aspects of content management are foundational and unlikely to change (content modeling, for example) and what aspects are still being defined by the marketplace (marketing automation and personalization, to name but two). In five years, parts of this book will still be wholly relevant, other parts will be showing their age, and a half-dozen new chapters will need to be added.
As a preemptive strike, I’d like to look forward a bit and consider where content management might be headed in the future. This is a practical exercise in that I’d like you to be ready for what might be around the corner, but it’s also an exercise in perspective, as I want you to understand the axes and inflection points along which this industry might expand, to give you some sense of the elasticity of content management – the industry, the software, and the discipline.
Chapters like this are difficult to write because they’re always a combination of legitimate prediction, documenting the obvious, and unavoidably spinning the conversation in the direction the author would like something to go. While I think evidence exists for all of the following predictions, only time will tell how accurate they are. In five years, I’m quite prepared for someone to find me at a conference and mock me for how wrong some of them turned out to be.
Additionally, predictions like these inevitably involve looking back at history and making interpretations of what has happened in the industry. My preferences and opinions will show through here. If you have a long history in this industry, you will no doubt disagree with my perspective on some of what has gone before. All that said, let’s take a look…
Fewer Open Source CMSs Will Get Traction
The open source CMS market is already crowded. I’ve long maintained that developers like to architect new CMS platforms more than any other type of software. This is due largely to a quick ramp-up time (a lot can get done in a short period of time, before development inevitably hockey sticks upward), but it’s also due to the Lure of the Framework.
Developers simply love writing frameworks. We love solving problems that stay theoretical. And that’s basically what a CMS does: it solves a problem that doesn’t exist yet. Someday, the CMS we build will solve an actual problem, certainly. But initially, it’s just a framework for a website, and the developer receives all the joy and endorphin rush of “solving” that problem, while the associated problems remain safely hypothetical. It’s all of the fun with none of the accountability.
Ten years ago, there was a dizzying array of open source projects launching seemingly every week, each one claiming some new angle on the content problem. Every once in a while, one would get a toehold in the collective attention span of CMS developers and claw its way toward some user base of note. All the others would fall away.
But even getting that initial toehold is becoming harder and harder. So many products are available in the marketplace that developers are seemingly retreating into what’s well known as a defensive mechanism. Existing open source systems are exerting something of a gravitational pull, drawing in more and more developers while slowly getting larger and larger, which allows them to draw in even more developers.
Very few new open source platforms have gotten traction in the last five years, especially compared to the five years before that. Systems like Concrete5 and ProcessWire are still young, but have managed to knit together vibrant and dedicated communities.
In contrast, Microsoft’s open source CMS offering, Orchard, has been unable to gain much traction or mindshare, even with a gigantic community of ASP.NET MVC developers to draw from and relatively few open source options in that space. And there are dozens of other new entrants that will simply never reach critical mass.
The thing that sustains and grows an open source project is the ability to attract developers, and the excitement of a new system is quickly tempered by the lack of a community and installed base in which the system might grow and be tested.
What will give birth to new systems is the adoption of new web frameworks. Every time a new language or programming paradigm gets traction, a handful of open source projects will spin off of early projects written for those platforms.
At the time of writing, the new darling of web developers is Node.js. We will no doubt see a handful of CMS options for that framework in the coming years, and those frameworks will have the benefit of few competitors. They will sink or swim based on the adoption of the underlying platform – if it withers, so will they.
In no way am I predicting that the development of open source CMSs will completely dry up, but there is simply less and less reason to roll the dice on a new system. While some developers enjoy being contrarian and iconoclastic as a rule, most others will simply be seduced by the array of plug-ins and support available for the larger platforms.
Decoupling Will Make a Comeback
Decoupled CMSs built the Web. When I first entered this industry, we didn’t even have the term “CMS.” We barely had the term “content.” As I noted in the preface, we just had a bunch of files sitting around and were forced to manage them by raw necessity.
Some of the first CMSs, in fact, were simply collections of Perl scripts that templated data and made aggregations easier to manage. Movable Type – one of the earliest blogging platforms, launched in 2001 – was a Perl-based scripting system that generated static HTML .