When I first start working in the web industry, almost seven years ago now, I had no idea what a CMS was. In fact, I’d never even heard of the term. Most people hadn’t. The concept was still infantile and the handful of open source and off-the-shelf products that existed were barely toddlers in comparison. Within a few years though everything changed and the CMS became one of the most important and focused upon features of every site… to the detriment of the entire web.
I’m not against CMS’, by any means – they can be quite wonderful if utilised properly, opening up the world of the online to the general public and technically insecure. Without the concept of managing your own site we wouldn’t have systems that give large organisations the ability to quickly and easily disseminate important, useful and entertaining information or small companies the ability to update and spread their news and events. Heck, we probably wouldn’t even have fantastic tools like WordPress or Blogger that give so many people around the world the opportunity to express themselves in long, ranting blog posts.
Yes, the principle is sound, very sound, the problem however lies in the status we give the almighty Content Management System. As web designers and developers we worship and obey it, unwittingly feeding our sites to it by focusing on creating reusable templates and placing the burden of populating them on our clients, ironically neglecting the entire thing the CMS was designed to manage – content. Just because a client can write and manage their own content, doesn’t mean they should.
“With great power comes great responsibility”
The result is a world wide web filled with sites of boring, useless text and awful stock imagery that has no meaning or relation to the copy whatsoever. What should have been a wonderful tool for freedom and flexible has instead become a noose around the neck of content, slowly threatening to destroy all consideration for it and undermine its importance. As as unfortunate side effect, the rise of the CMS has turned web designers into creators of empty and shallow templates rather than crafters of engaging and influential products. We’ve stopped seeing web sites as vehicles for well thought out and well crafted content but instead ignored it completely in favour of mindlessly slicing up designs to be compatible with CMS’ our clients will never use.
I think part of this trend is due to laziness and complacency on our part. It’s easier to imagine content than it is to create it, easier to fill our designs with stock photography and Latin text than it is to source and supply accurate, relevant informative, easier to just put the emphasis on the client to do all of these things and provide them with an empty shell to flesh out than it is to take the burden of responsibility onto our own shoulders. Ultimately, it’s a mistake. I honestly believe that to create truly effectual web sites we need to craft meaningful content and then design around it, not create templates and then simply supply the client with a means of filling them out like a glorified colouring book.
The popularity of the CMS has made us forget the importance of content, it’s banished good copy and imagery to an after-thought and it’s made us compromise on our creations, making us constantly produce work that’s “easy to CMS” rather than being as impactful and useful as possible. As much as I love the concept, as much as I love some of the tools that are available out there and as much as I can understand and appreciate its variety of uses and applications, I can’t help but feel that the Content Management System has done a disservice to the web by encouraging us to ironically neglect the thing it champions so.