What Is a CMS? Definition and Meaning

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The term “CMS” is short for “Content Management System.” A CMS is a type of software that makes a website work, and it essentially has two jobs. The first job is to provide an interface for the website’s owner to add and update content, and the second job is to serve that content to users to want to view the website. 

Content management systems have revolutionized website development because they’ve helped to transform what was once a mostly static experience into something that’s dynamic and can update itself on the fly as new content is published. Perhaps even more importantly, using a CMS makes it possible for virtually anyone to create and publish a website of almost any type. A CMS provides a friendly front end that looks like an ordinary word processing program, and that has enabled millions of people with no programming skills to launch their own websites.

The Early Web Was a Static Experience

It might be difficult to understand what the early web was like before the advent of content management systems unless you were using the Internet at that time. The vast majority of the sites on the Internet before the 21st century were simple affairs powered by HyperText Markup Language (HTML). If you wanted to have a website for a hobby or small business, you’d either learn to write documents in HTML, or you’d use a program with the ability to save documents in the HTML format. You’d upload the documents to a server, and then you’d have a website.

The reason why a purely HTML-based website is called “static” is because the content rarely changes. In order to update a static website during the 1990s, you’d have to download a page to your computer, make the desired updates and upload the page back to the server. If you added a new page to your site, you’d have to link to the new page from all of the old ones, or no one would be able to find the content. Because the process was so cumbersome, static websites rarely received updates. A static website was also a one-sided affair that allowed the site owner to communicate with users but provided no avenue for users to participate.

A CMS-Powered Website Is Dynamic

Aside from old sites that have been kept alive since the ‘90s, it’s very rare to find static websites on the Internet today. That’s largely because content management systems have so thoroughly revolutionized website development. 

A CMS-based website is dynamic, meaning that the site updates itself automatically when new content is added. When a new article is added to a dynamic site, it appears on the home page so people who visit the site always see the latest content at the top of the page. When a new option is added to the site’s menu system, the updated menu automatically appears on all pages of the site. Using a CMS makes it dramatically easier to manage a website with a high volume of content.

Using a CMS also enables user participation on a website, which usually comes in the form of comments left on articles. When a comment is approved by the site’s owner, it appears on the associated article automatically. Moreover, a comment system also enables users to communicate with one another. Dynamic websites are participatory by nature, which greatly enhances the experience for site owners and users alike.

Content Management Systems Helped to Kickstart the Blogging Revolution

The term “blog” – short for “weblog” – has been part of the vernacular for so long that it’s difficult to remember a time when blogs didn’t exist. If a website isn’t an e-commerce business, in fact, it’s most likely a blog. It’s estimated that more than a quarter of the websites in the world are blogs.

A blog is a website that updates itself automatically as new articles are published. A blog’s home page shows a list of the latest articles in reverse chronological order – and every time a new article is published, it’s displayed on the home page automatically. That’s essentially how all personal sites and online magazines and newspapers now work. If a website earns revenue by displaying advertisements, it’s probably a blog – and you can largely thank content management systems for that.

Plugins Can Enable a CMS to Power Almost Any Type of Website

The explosion of blogging during the Web 2.0 revolution isn’t the only reason why content management systems have so thoroughly penetrated all corners of the Internet. Using a CMS is also great for a website owner because content management systems are infinitely extensible. With plugins – which are often free or inexpensive – a CMS can power almost any type of website. Even if you have no programming experience, you can use a CMS to create an e-commerce website like Premium Vape, a photo gallery, a forum, a local business site or just about anything else. A CMS is most likely at the heart of virtually every website that you visit.

Many of the Most Popular Content Management Systems Are Free

There are so many content management systems available today that it would be difficult to list all of them in one place. WordPress, however, is undoubtedly the most famous of them all. It’s estimated that over 43 percent of the websites currently in existence use WordPress, and that’s due to a confluence of factors. WordPress is free, and it’s also extremely easy to use. Most web hosts will install it for you automatically, so all you need to do is log in and start writing.

Here are some of the other popular content management systems powering many of today’s websites.

  • Drupal: A free open-source CMS. Its default installation package includes some features that WordPress lacks, but it’s a bit more complicated to use.
  • Joomla: A free open-source CMS. Geared primarily toward developers who want to develop websites and web-based applications based on a well-known existing framework.
  • Blogger: A free CMS and hosting platform for personal blogs. Owned by Google.
  • Shopify: A commercial CMS and hosting platform for e-commerce websites. Short on customization options but a good option for entrepreneurs who have no web development experience and want to get up and running quickly.
  • Magento: An open-source e-commerce platform owned by Adobe. Extremely powerful but may not be ideal for those with no web development experience.
  • MediaWiki: A free open-source CMS for the creation of collaborative information repositories similar to Wikipedia.