CMS, Site Builders and Static Sites

Does the term ‘CMS’ mean anything anymore? And, why a hybrid static site solution is the only way out.

Where we stand today?

Wordpress really brought web sites to the masses. Instead of writing obscure code using HTML / Javascript, using Blogspot, or using third party site builders, Wordpress and its ecosystem allowed all humans with basic computer skills to whip up a site within no time.

Wordpress is a content management system (“CMS”), and a good CMS at that.

Wordpress has improved over time, and it can do much much more than what it could do even 2 years back. But it is still old school.

The other CMS’s like Drupal or Joomla did not make it to the public consciousness. They solved problems for a different type of audience - and their efficacy at doing that in a rapidly changing world is called into question.

Meanwhile, there are site builders like Squarespace, Wix et. al. that started as “website builders”, but have been attaching CMS to their names. Nothing wrong, technically. They help users to manage content, may not be at the same level as their revered ancestors - and that’s ok.

There’s a new breed of headless CMS’es. These just refer to software systems that may or may not have UI of their own. But they do provide an efficient way to manage content. You can consume and present that content using your favourite frontend tool.

And, then - there are static sites. Sites that cut off the middleman in preparing content for the audience, instead (almost) everything is pre-compiled and ready-to-serve. But at the same time, do not take on the responsibility of role-based access or dynamic content.

Where’s the problem?

So, if everyone and everything has its place in the universe, how is anything a problem with this land?

The situation in CMS today is diverse -

  1. Proprietary tech that can lock you down - this applies not only to Wix but also to digital publishing platforms like Medium
  2. Surprising range of functions. Any application with a semblance of a role and a way of presenting data to an audience calls itself a CMS
  3. Old school tech that relies on slow DB operations and unwarranted complexities, hybrid approaches with no standards and newer way of doing things that most likely do not stand the test of time

I feel individuals and even organizations do not carefully evaluate the path they want to take here. The main issue is not the CMS itself, but the definition of CMS.

CMS’s traditionally include -

  • A way to create and manage digital content incl. text, images and videos
  • A collaboration system where multiple people can come together to create artefacts

Today, you can create sites at a click of a button and have advanced functionality enabled in a couple of more clicks. These sites may manage plenty of content without even calling itself a CMS accomplish many many more things that a traditional CMS may not do.

Many of the modern CMS’s may also mix content and presentation at any time before the actual presentation. Think static sites. CMS may also not have a presentation layer at all!

  • StrapiJS (a headless CMS) is a back-end application for any and all data. It happens to have a good ACL too
  • Static sites and hybrid sites pre-cook content + presentation

I believe that CMS is dead, and the new breed should be called something else.

CoMaS, may be - that is easier to pronounce. Or just may be calling them for what they are - site builders, back-end applications (BaaS / BPaaS, anyone?), static sites and the like.

Although this very much looks like some two people’s effort to rebrand ‘customer relationship management’ into ‘customer experience’ - this is equally challenging times for all technologies that want to get contained in a box.

Where are we headed?

A fairly quick conclusion to the pointless rant - the future is ‘hybrid’. Combine static site generation with the power of dynamic content to produce hybrid solutions that handle anything thrown at them.

  1. Use static site generation technologies for static content. Prep content so that presentation can be faster
  2. Use APIs to provide options to use any front-end tools
  3. Fall back on DBs (relational or otherwise) to enable dynamic behaviour - may it be role-based access, collaboration tools or for digital publishing

I would love to believe Wordpress will evolve to do all this and much more. Many plugins already provide a quick way to setup static content, and all it needs is to be a couple of notches higher.

But, I am betting big on an altogether new player to take the lead on this one. The question is whether any of the existing players take that role to create an open platform by foregoing the short-term monetization option.

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