Back in the dim recesses of time (the 1990s, for those who remember zeppelins and Model T cars), web pages were nothing more than simple text files nestled comfortably into folders on a server somewhere on the Internet. With names like index.html, news.html, about_us.html, and so on, these files were viewable by anyone with a web browser. Using the HTML markup language, these files could link back and forth to each other, include images and other media, and generally make themselves presentable. A website, as the hipsters of that day would explain, was just a collection of those files in a particular folder, as pictured in Figure 1-2.
This system worked pretty well, and it made sense. Every URL that a user on the Internet could visit corresponded to a unique .html file on the web server. If you wanted to organize them into sections, you made a folder and moved the files into that folder; for example, http://www.example.com/news/ would be the address to the "News" section of the site, and the 1997 newsletter would be located at http://www.example.com/news/ fall_1997_products.html. When the webmaster (or the intern) needed to fix a problem, they could look at the page in their web browser and open up the matching file on the web server to tweak it.
Unfortunately, as websites grew in size, it was obvious that this approach didn't scale well. After a year or so of adding pages and shuffling directories around, many sites had dozens, hundreds, or sometimes even thousands of pages to manage. And that, friends, caused some serious problems:
about r^ P* ri about_us.html contact.html spring_1997_ products.html fall_1997_
Figure 1-2. A historical look at website structure
Changing the site's design required an enormous amount of work
Formatting information, layout, and other site design was done individually on every single page. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) hadn't yet taken the web world by storm, so tasks as simple as changing the site's default font required (that's right) editing every single file.
The site structure resulted in massive duplication of content
Most designs for websites included a standard footer at the bottom of the page with copyright and contact information, a header image or some kind of recurring navigation menu, and so on. If anything changed, every file had to be updated. If you were very, very lucky, all the webmasters before you had been very conscientious about making sure that there were no layout variations and this would be a scriptable change. Most webmasters weren't lucky, and to this day mutter darkly about sites built using FrontPage, PageMill, Dreamweaver, and Notepad—all at once.
Websites were impossible to keep consistent and up-to-date
Most complex sites were already organized into directories and subdirectories to keep things reasonably tidy. Adding a news story in the news directory meant that you also had to update the "overview" page that listed all news stories, perhaps post a quick notice on the front page of the website, and (horror!) remember to take the notice down when the news was no longer "fresh." A large site with multiple sections and a fair amount of content could keep a full-time webmaster busy just juggling these updates.
A Brief History of Content Management | 5
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