What is a Web Content Management System, or WCMS?
A Web Content Management System is typically a tool used by both technical and non-technical staff to
manage the creation of structured web pages for a web based experience such as an Internet Website,
Intranet or Extranet solution
The History of Web Content Management
In the modern world, we are all used to the idea that we can create our own documents – but if you go back 15
or so years – the only way you could create a website was by understanding ‘HTML’ - which few did. Products
like Dreamweaver and Frontpage were not around – which meant that pretty much if you wanted to have a
website (internet, extranet, intranet) then you needed someone with technical skills to write it – but not only
that - once they had written it you still needed someone technical to change it – as it involved reading HTML
code to determine where to add content.
As a result of the above – anyone with a website pretty much ran a ‘centralised creation process’ for web
content. The ‘norm’ would be that if you had information you wanted on a web page you would send it via
email to the ‘web team’ who would then amend an existing page or create a new one (if you were lucky you
would get to ‘approve’ the page before it went live – if not you just accepted the formatting of the web team).
Web Content Management systems were developed to solve this issue. If you talk to vendors you will hear
phrases like ‘decentralised content creation’ or ‘separation of layout from content’. In essence, a WCMS exists
to allow non technical staff to create or amend web pages without the need to involve the technical staff.
Unlike a Document Management System that does not necessarily enforce a structure on the documents
being created – a WCMS typically enforces a structure on the pages being created – often referred to as
templates. The structure (representing the layout ‘code’ for the web page) is typically concealed from the
editor or author – so that the only task they have to complete is the insertion of content into a ‘blank structured
Whilst products like Dreamweaver and Frontpage have evolved to emulate the above scenario with features
such as drag and drop resulting in the generation of code without technical intervention – they should not be
confused with WCMS systems. As products it could be argued that they serve a small niche segment of the
market for managing web pages. Its hard to put an exact figure on suitability but probably up to 200 pages is
the amount of content you could manage via such products (though there are certainly examples of more). It
would be more correct to describe such products as ‘website builders’ than Web Content Management
Characteristics of a Web Content Management System
A WCMS can be characterised or summarised by the following;
it manages small units of information (web pages) – each unit of information is interconnected via a
navigation structure or path.
each unit (web page) is defined by its location on the site – hierarchies of information are created by
the location of each unit in relation to all the other units of information within the overall web event.
Further definition can be created by ‘verticals’ of navigation that determine the type of information
stored under it
there is extensive cross-linking between pages – which determines that a visitor can move from one
page to another by means other than the navigation
it is focused primarily on page creation and editing - it facilitates content creation, content control,
editing, and many essential web maintenance functions by presenting the non technical user with an