Many institutions are identified by abbreviations that used to stand for something: American Telephone & Telegraph, the Columbia Broadcasting System, Computer Associates, International Business Machines and whatever MSNBC stood for.

After a time, a corporation stands for something beyond what it produced at the time of its founding.

The “C” in “CMSWire” stands for “content.”  The job of managing content in an organization has shifted, over the short history of the content management system, from the lead programmer to the web developer, then to the IT department, then back to the web developer and then to the marketing department. And sometimes back and forth from there.

In a very short span of history, the customer base for the CMS has shifted a countless number of times. In just the few months I’ve been producing content for CMSWire, confused vendors have wondered why I seem to be talking about software development when CMSWire is obviously an IT publication, or why I seem to be talking about IT when CMSWire is obviously a marketing publication.

I had read somewhere that an agile business requires a strategic alignment along all of its business units. If that’s truly the case, then anything I produce that concerns the interests of software developers who work in content management, should be of concern to the marketing department. Shouldn’t it?

As CMSWire evolves, by my reckoning, its name will come to stand for more than its letters. More to the point, it may have to.

Content Dynamics

There is a very significant strategic shift to the way the web works. Specifically, its fundamental protocol HTTP is being leveraged more and more for inter-process communication than for transporting Web pages.

Granted, I now sound like I’m writing for software developers rather than marketing managers or executives. So permit me to better frame the significance of that last statement, in language that sounds less like I just made it up.

The web is less about managing content than facilitating communication. Now, if the business, marketing and software strategies of an organization are truly in alignment with one another, this is terrific news. It means the web is becoming more of a system for facilitating customer experience.

If you’re a producer of content management systems, this might be a problem.

“Content,” as it has come to be known on the web, is a static mass of text that accumulates over years and years in a colossal heap that just keeps growing, like rust or like presidential candidates. 

Raise your hand if yours is one of those companies in the midst of transitioning its database of content from one CMS to another CMS, like the great Westward Migration.

Keep your hands up. We’ll have the International Space Station take a snapshot.

Under HTTP and HTML5, the web is becoming a way for programs running on servers to communicate with people using simpler clients. Communication has the virtue of enabling smaller bits of data, or what we used to call “content,” between businesses and their customers.

This has  —  or, at least, it should have  —  a very important side-effect: It means you communicate with your customers using everyday documents, not by attaching them to email messages or by encrusting them to the surfaces of colossal CMS databases like some bloated papier-machê.

“Dynamic content” is a phrase used to describe the shuffling around of bits of static content. Whereas your layout used to consist of ABCD, now it can consist of BADC or CDBA. Squeeze them into a smaller frame, so you just see A or C, and that’s “mobility.”

In a truly dynamic web, the documents your business uses to communicate with your customers take whatever form and format they require, to meet the needs of customers at the moment. They’re not beholden to databases. That’s why file systems were invented.

It’s the ideal of SharePoint, but in its more idealistic form: a server that presents an easy-to-navigate portal for the documents or data or, to coin a phrase, “content,” and facilitates the exchange of that content for the user.

Fight or Flight

In a world, to evoke Don LaFontaine for a moment, where the content that’s presented through the web is managed by a file system, and the display format for that content is determined by the client, where, O where, has the content management system gone?

That’s the problem. We’re talking not about the evolution of an industry, but the obsolescence of one, like the “fax machine,” the “pocket pager” and the “nightly news.” Just like one of the T’s in AT&T and ITT standing for a concept these companies have already outmoded, the S in CMS may face extinction.

No major technology in the history of anything has walked quietly into that good night, as the poet once said, otherwise people’s PCs would not still be plagued with third-party antivirus.

Large data warehouses still exist, and continue to be purchased and deployed, in this era of Big Data and Hadoop where, at least theoretically, new technology already supersedes it.

Huge virtualization systems still host virtual desktops where applications pretend to be installed locally on non-existent PCs. Old life, like the dinosaurs of the “Jurassic” movie series, find a way — usually by means of a sequel.

The next stage in the existence of the supposedly endangered species that is the CMS will look something like a sequel. So despite what’s happening to the web, the “CMS” in our name may yet continue to refer to something like a telegraph system, for several more, long, enduring months.