The Modern Building Blocks of Websites

We create websites to store, access, edit and publish content. It has been like this and it will stay just so, at least in the conceivable future. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the history of web design will stay inextricably tied to the evolution of content management systems (CMS).

With the proliferation of Cloud Computing and the leaps made by the IT industry to accommodate mobile devices into our lives and offices, you would expect content management systems to have evolved tremendously in the last decade. Unfortunately, as this article will imply, not very much has been recently accomplished in this field. We are, however, on the verge of a brave new era in content management. The digital world is about to fully go “modular!”

What should you expect from a CMS?

Given the complexity of websites and the lack of a standard model, a uniform definition of CMS and its constituent parts is challenging, but, when using a CMS, you should expect to benefit from the following minimum basic functions:

  • Create, transfer and display text and rich media content based on a fixed document and page structure.
  • Identify key users and their role in managing content. Offer secure access from any location.
  • Assign roles and functions to different categories of content.
  • Track and organize several versions of the same content asset.
  • Store (and easily search for) content in libraries to facilitate access.
  • Have sufficient templating solutions to fit all content requirements.

These are the types of functions WordPress was promising even as far back as 2003, when it was first released, and these are still the main things to look for in a CMS. Nevertheless, these functions seem inspired by the activity of a newsroom. While this set-up will certainly prove useful for collective blogs or news sites, you will need to pull considerably more functionality and layout freedom out of a CMS if you are going to build an ecommerce platform, or a wonderful online portfolio. Ultimately, even news portals and blogs would benefit a lot by outgrowing page-oriented template concepts.

Why are page-oriented template concepts out of date?

Since the early days of the internet, when fitting texts and images into one-column layouts was more than enough, we have gathered an impressive collection of distinct types of content. Each of them entails its own set of rules, from the information it should contain, to the way we need to showcase it.

However, one could argue that most of these content types have the same few framing attributes. For example, whitepapers, blog posts, case studies, and articles should all have an author, a title, body text, images, videos, and comments. So, why hassle over the few differences between content types?

Here is why: keep in mind that the main difference between various types of content, apart from their distinct uses, is that they all have specific graphic formats. Consequently, to accommodate this extended list of content types, we were forced to create more and more custom page templates.

So, what’s the problem with having many templates?

Having more templates implies that more complexity needs to be added to the CMS. More often than not, the effort to adapt to all these formats results in less stability, poor scalability and, paradoxically, a decrease in overall adaptability. Most importantly, the creation and maintenance of numerous custom page templates will slow down production and will negatively impact the bottom line because it's not a very flexible concept.

By designing websites around page-oriented template concepts, we are forced to make important layout decisions long before most of the content is even created. By the time the content is ready for publishing, we usually want to change the layouts. Here comes more work, more tedious customization and less profit at the end of the quarter. Feel free to quote me on this one:

The urgency of a breakthrough in content management systems derives from the realization that business environments are evolving so rapidly and so unpredictably, that page-oriented template concepts are no longer going to cut it.

Any high-paced business environment will favor the companies that show adaptability. For this reason alone, being able to give website editors the power to customize content and layouts in place, without the help of programmers, is not only quite useful, but will actually prove crucial in the next few years. It will prove extremely efficient in terms of development, design, content management, ease of maintenance, and, most importantly, production costs.

I stated earlier that providing a uniform definition of CMS is challenging. It is, but here is what I am going with:

The goal of a Content Management System is to reduce or eliminate the interference of programmers in the management of websites, so users with no programming skills can create, customize and manage content with relative ease by using drag-and-drop.

The traditional building blocks of websites have been either custom or one-size-fits-all page templates, which is what traditional CMS such as WordPress, Joomla or Drupal have been offering for years. However, to truly bring content management into the 21st century, we need to overcome the limitations of page-oriented template concepts.

The World Wide Web is going modular

The vehicle of change, needed to overcome these limitations, has turned out to be the widget. Widgets have been around for more than a decade, but they have always been viewed as add-ons, appendices to the fixed page templates. No more! Thanks to modular approaches to web design, widgets can easily become the constituent parts of the website, providing amazing scalability and full control over all digital endeavors.

A widget in Scrivito is a reusable page component, which an editor can insert and move around on the page using drag-and-drop. Any text can be edited in-place.

Practically, any function of a website or application can be obtained by using widgets.

On top of the functions of the traditional CMS, here are some of the most important benefits brought on by using a CMS which is based on widgets and favors a modular approach to web design:

  • Prototypes can be released and modified quickly and with ease.
  • Businesses can gain full control and overview of their digital assets.
  • Website editors can control, update, move, and resize all widgets to fit their layout needs, even mid-project.
  • Added intelligence to content assets; enables easy sharing, monitoring and avoids duplicates.
  • Extensive metadata support.
  • Unlike page templates, all widgets can be reused in future projects.

Scrivito brings even more benefits to the table. First, it is a cloud-based CMS that allows in-place editing. No dashboard, no “back office”, just the user, a plethora of widgets and endless possible layouts. Second, Scrivito comes with a library of pre-built page components which will save time during the development of the website.

Most importantly, thanks to Scrivito's progressive fusion of widget and cloud technologies, scalability has become a problem of the past, much like the storage capacity of floppy disks or the speed of dot matrix printers.

So take a look at our widget gallery – the building blocks Scrivito is already equipped with – or start building your own. It's fast, easy and fun.

More great blog posts from Thomas Witt

  • pyramid hierarchy

    < 10 Min. of Training

    Only by providing users with a great way to utilize the CMS, projects will succeed

    User experience is key to success The usability of many traditional content management systems is poor. Some systems are even inoperable from the user’s point of view. This starts a downward spiral: the more difficult the use of the CMS, the less it is used – quickly leading to outdated content...

  • 99.95 % + Uptime

    No Breaks in Content Delivery.

    Non-stop availability Running a traditional content management system comes with system administration jobs that might affect the availability of service: installing CMS patches and avoiding breaking plug-in dependencies while doing so, updating staging and production systems, CMS and...

  • 100 % Cloud

    Only the True Cloud Offers Real Benefits

    Full-stack, cloud-native architecture Current CMS set-ups require a lot of IT infrastructure. In addition to the CMS and the operating system itself, databases, servers, load balancers, monitoring/backup systems, and search engines are needed. The production environment includes development and...

  • Status Quo - The Role of the CMS is Changing 

    Limitations of current CMS systems The web has constantly changed and improved since Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented it in 1989. Unfortunately, the technology behind it has not. Web pages still load too slowly, responsiveness sometimes is just a promise, and weak security remains an ongoing issue....

  • Honey, I shrunk the search response times

    100% faster search response times In the last weeks we've deployed two new releases into production which results in a massive search speed-up for all our customers. Scrivito's internal search engine, which utilitizes on Elasticsearch, has been massively optimized. Through two separate...

  • CDN URLs change on Monday, 2016-07-11

    We're going to change our CDN URL from cdn[0-3] to cdn[0-3] on Monday, 2016-07-11 at 14:50 CET. Existing links will continue to work, meaning that the legacy URLs pointing to cdn* won't expire. The change will be done automatically in our backend. No SDK...

  • E-Commerce Meets Content: Announcing the Scrivito CMS Integration with Solidus

    Solidus (formerly Spree Commerce) is an excellent e-commerce platform for Ruby on Rails, which is available for free on GitHub. It is a Rails engine and provides a scalable, stable, and highly customizable platform for online commerce. Thousands of stores – from small to big – are using Solidus...

  • Ruby Conference Review: Mountain West Ruby Conf 2016

    This is the fourth article of a multi-series blog post about Ruby and tech conferences that @thomas_witt visited in 2016. The setting Mountain West Ruby Conf  2016 (@mwrc) took place on March 21-22, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah for the 10th and sadly the last time. The venue was the Rose Wagner...

  • Tech Conference Review: SXSW 2016

    This is the third article of a multi-series blog post about Ruby and tech conferences that @thomas_witt visited in 2016. The setting South By Southwest (@sxsw) takes place every year in Austin, TX. This year marked the 30st anniversary of this legendary event. It started as a small music festival...

  • Ruby Conference Review: RubyConf Australia 2016

    This is the second article of a multi-series blog post about Ruby and tech conferences that @thomas_witt visited in 2016. The setting I guess I don't have to lose too many words on Australia: It's an absolutely endearing country - unfortunately located very very far from everywhere. It's got...

  • Ruby Conference Review: Rubyfuza 2016

    This is the first article of a multi-series blog post about Ruby/Tech conferences that @thomas_witt visited in 2016. The setting Cape Town is always worth a visit. Since years I keep on coming back to this lovely place on earth. Its peaceful atmosphere, its beauty of nature, the great food and...

  • Best Practices for Creating Responsive Websites

    Creating responsive websites is more important than ever. Google has added mobile-friendliness as part of their search algorithm for mobile devices, and a growing number of people are accessing the Internet from an array of mobile devices, and the number of users keeps growing every year. With...