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Backstory to the Low-Code/No-Code Revolution

We’re kicking off our new series on the Low-Code/No-Code Revolution, which is completely changing the way websites are built. In order to appreciate the force of this revolution, we’re going to review the past ages of website development. I mentioned in the introduction that I’ve been designing and developing websites since 1995. So I’ve had a front row seat to this history. 

One of my early observations about the emergence of the world wide web back in the nineties, was that for the first time completely non-technical clients were having to buy what was essentially custom software. Up until that time there were plenty of businesses that relied on software and software products, but most businesses didn’t hire contractors to build custom software solutions for them. But a website, especially back then, is software requiring both coding and complex technical stacks to run web servers and host websites. 

Because ordinary businesses suddenly found themselves having to buy custom software, in the form of websites, they were thrown into a world of technical jargon and engineer speak that they really didn’t understand. Because of this huge gap, to lead a successful website project required not just design and programming skills, it also required high level communication skills to help non-technical clients understand what they were buying—making sure they understood what could and could not be done (at least within the constraints of their budgets). This was really difficult because clients would see website functionality that they wanted for themselves, without understanding how much engineering was involved behind the scenes. 

There is still quite a bit of client education needed in website development (which is why we have our Answering the RFP series). The gap between client expectations and their understanding of the technological demands needed to meet those expectations is still a fundamental part of the web development process.

But while the communications gap will always need to be bridged, the gap between sophisticated expectations and ordinary budgets has closed over the decades. As more and more products enter the market that meet these advanced requirements, website developers can offload the need for custom coded solutions in place of professionally supported products.

So let’s take a 30,000 foot flyover of how this trend to replace custom coded solutions with supported products has evolved. 

Let’s begin with the early demand for content management. Pretty much as soon as websites started becoming a necessary part of being a business, clients wanted to be able to update their pages without having to work through a programmer. In the earliest days every single text change or image update had to run through a developer who knew how to edit HTML and FTP files up to a server. That was slow and costly, so the demand for content management systems was huge. 

Unfortunately, the earliest options for content management were enterprise level software solutions with price ranges way beyond the reach of the average client. My first company actually built its own content management system because this need was so urgent, and there were no affordable alternatives. But that required a ton of custom code!

Then, in the early 2000’s, Drupal and WordPress emerged as the first open source CMS options. WordPress, back then, was pretty basic, essentially it was a simple blogging platform, and Drupal, while more sophisticated, still required a lot of custom coding to implement. But once deployed, both systems allowed clients to control content, albeit in a rudimentary fashion.

The next stage of evolution was the release of all-in-one web services like Squarespace and Wix. These platforms really did take the coding out of both website creation and content management. They offered No-Code site creation and provided built in elements for content expression like drag and drop text blocks, galleries, tables, accordions, and such to build out page content. For very basic websites these kinds of hosted platforms were, and still are a very convenient option. 

But in order to build dynamic and customized websites you still required custom programming. 

But one interesting effect these page building platforms had was to inspire WordPress plugin developers to offer similar drag and drop elements for content expression right within WordPress’s open source framework. The rise of these “page builder” plugins was the birth of the Low-Code/No-Code revolution that we’re experiencing in website development today. 

Because the impact of Low-Code/No-Code has been most dramatically felt within the WordPress world, we’re going to need to do a deeper dive into the history of WordPress to take this story to the next level. And we’ll do just that in our next video.

Until then. 

Viva la Revolución!

Why do some charge $1,000 for WordPress development and others $100,000? Everything about WordPress pricing is explained in our eBook “Why Pay Less?”