The history of web content management can be told in many different ways. I chose to go through my own personal archives and tell it by visiting the various different stages of our product CQ that I have been involved with my entire professional career.
One could say that I am still in my first job after 18 years — however, I feel like the internet market in general and the web content management market specifically has reinvented itself so many times that it feels more like 4 or 5 different eras, and in that sense, like 4 or 5 different jobs.
1994: In the sausage factory
Before the WCM market was born we started in a sausage factory on the outskirts of Basel. We were a mixed group of futurists that were adamant about using modern technology (for example, CD-ROMs at the time) to help our customers communicate. We described ourselves as a high-tech communications agency. In the anglophile world that we lived in, we purposely chose a French name for our company to illustrate that we were not about technology, but about using technology as a communication vehicle.
When we realized that there was something more interesting than CD-ROMs, games or screensavers we broke the bank and got ourselves a "leased line" to the "internet" with a whopping bandwidth of 64kbits/s and a really interesting green Silicon Graphics Indy as our web server.
Learning HTML to manage their web sites was not an option for our customers, but getting hundreds of phone calls to make changes to their web sites was not an option for us. So we built something that we called an "admin tool" to allow business users to change web content using simple web forms and to get us out of the boring business of making simple updates for our customers. We didn't know that this would be called a "web content management" system in the future.
1996: Openweb is born
A couple of years later we realized that our "admin tool" was a unique selling proposition for our web design business — "if you let us design your website, you will be able to update it yourself". Since it could be sold as a stand-alone product, we thought it at least deserved a proper name, so we called it "openweb".
"Openweb" was written in C as a webserver plugin (NSAPI initially) and fit onto a 1.44m floppy disk.
One of our early customers came back from a conference in the U.S. and told us that there was a market in the U.S. called "web content management (WCM)" which was very well aligned with what we were doing. We heard distant rumblings of Vignette in the U.S.; however, the market was dominated by a large number of local players in every single European country — many of them have since vanished.
1999: CQ2 takes the market with bakers and fryers
At the same time, the WCM market started to shape up, there were primarily two different models of understanding WCM, known as "baking" and "frying". Both of those were represented and marketed by individual U.S. companies. The chief baker was Interwoven and the chief fryer was Vignette. While baking as represented by Interwoven was an automation to produce static html more efficiently with solid versioning and different tools, frying — as proposed by the Vignette feature stack — looked like an early stage Tcl-based application server backed by a relational database and some reverse proxy caching.
The market fragmentation was increasing and it seemed like every single week there was a new WCM vendor added to the space. Switzerland, with a very small domestic market, maxed out at a good dozen domestic vendors.