Concrete is the brainchild of Franz Maruna and Andrew Embler. These guys grew up in the 80's, before it was fashionable to be a geek. Both spent a good deal of time in their local BBS scenes, both had a strong interest in the arts as well as technology, and they both got involved with the web because of a passion for bringing people together with technology.
They met in Portland, Oregon on a production gig, banging out annual reports for Intel in the bowels of a local ad agency. While Franz had already officially dropped out of school to make his fortune on the wild wild web, Andy was finishing up an English major at University of Oregon. These two quickly realized their skills and interests complimented each other quite well. Through many consulting jobs and a couple of full time positions, they have been happily working together since 1999.
Concrete CMS v1 – circa 2003
Running a small interactive media shop, Franz jumped on the opportunity to help a local agency build a Lewis and Clark Bicentennial site for the AdCouncil. Driven by the fearless nature of youth, the three-month turnaround on a huge project with over 90 stakeholders hardly daunted him. Within the first week, it quickly became clear that there would be no absolute decisions on this project. College professors, Native Tribes, tourists – the audiences and decision makers on this project had not only different perspectives, but often contradictory ones. Any piece of content might end up getting moved from here to there, a rigid tech project approach simply wasn't going to work. They needed something more flexible, something where they could dramatically change the site in real time without negatively impacting the project schedule.
Concrete CMS was born. Starting from scratch in PHP 4, Franz and Andy built a highly flexible system that tried to avoid all the pitfalls of other products like Mambo, Teamsite, and StoryServer. They developed three rules to use to evaluate every decision:
1. Keep it easy. You don't have to be "trained" to do some basic writing in a word processor. The same should be true for your website.
2. Keep it flexible. They worked for some of the best ad agencies in the world. Being told "well you can't do that with this CMS" wasn't an option. The client’s needs define the web experience, not the technology's limitations.
3. Keep it robust. The AdCouncil was buying national TV commercials. The site would get big spikes of traffic, up to 10,000 visitors per second. While any system will need some fine tuning to handle that, the CMS had to be inherently scalable.
Concrete v2 – circa 2004
It turned out a lot of projects could benefit from a rapid development platform that made it easy for site owners to use and update their site. While Franz's shop continued to bang out everything from Flash product demos to application interface design, more and more projects were built with the toolset developed for the AdCouncil gig.
Franz thought up the name 'Concrete' on a rainy walk in Portland, Oregon. You can build just about anything with it, it's easily added onto later, the advent of concrete was revolutionary in the architectural world. Many lessons learned from the AdCouncil gig were incorporated into this version of Concrete CMS, which was used as the building material for the cool indie music network.
Concrete v3 - circa 2005
The guys started focusing all their development energies on Concrete CMS. The shop's old name was dropped, they moved into new hip offices in Old Town Portland, and started banging out every mid-sized site they could in Concrete. A lot of community sites were developed. A wizard structure that easily let sites break out of the In-Context editing mode was developed. From brochureware to extranets, Concrete CMS was becoming a player in the Pacific Northwest.
Concrete v4 - circa 2007
As Web 2.0 became dangerously bubble-esque, the Concrete team kept plugging away at larger and larger projects. The user system was re-thought to be more flexible, the dashboard emerged as some much needed balance to the in-context editing.
concrete5 - circa 2008
After five years of using Concrete and many more of consulting, Franz and Andy had failed to make the world a significantly better place. Yes, they now had a web shop that cost $70k/month to run in a hip town, but is that really a great legacy? Concrete had no sales channels beyond word-of-mouth, and while it was fundamentally a great CMS, it had nowhere near the reach of simpler things like blogs and tweets. Franz now had two kids, Andy was thinking 'career' instead of 'gig' – a new direction was needed.
The boys went back to the lab. They stopped adding features to Concrete, and instead completely gutted everything they didn't like. They completely redesigned the interface. They re-thought how templating worked. They took their five years of successes and failures and locked themselves in their basements and built the perfect solution: concrete5. They invested in properly protecting the brand, and gave the product away under the most permissive open source license they could find.
Why? Too many reasons to list here, but you're welcome to peruse their blog from the time to see how the decisions felt as they unfolded. Suffice to say, Franz and Andy wanted to do a lot more than a few guys in Portland, Oregon could pull off on their own.
concrete5 was released in early June 2008. By October, it was project of the month on SourceForge.net. By November it was getting well over 1,000 visitors a day.
concrete5 v5.1 - v5.6 - circa 2008 - 2013
For five years they jammed on what was initially released open source. They built a marketplace of add-ons and themes, some of which cost money. They offered hosting in cPanel/WHM setups. They tried out all sorts of ways to fund the project, from paid "Initial Support Requests" to "Pro" accounts for developers. They even sold merch. Some ideas were better than others, but through this time they continued to pursue large client engagements from organizations including Clear.com and PlannedParenthood.
concrete5 v7 - circa 2014-2016
In a commitment to follow best practices and help PHP grow up into a big boy programming language and not something for 'script kiddies,' they decided to refactor the core to be completely namespaced. This meant changes so deep there wasn't a real upgrade path from v6 to v7, just some scripts you could use to migrate data. This also meant that every theme and add-on in the marketplace needed significant refactoring. This was a difficult move for the business, and the business took a real hit as it was effectively starting over. Version 7 did get an updated UX and a much sexier code base out of it, but ouch. Not easy times...
concrete5 v8 - circa 2017-2019
For years Franz & Andy continued to fund the project and develop features by providing custom development services to ever larger clients. This culminated in a large multi-year project for the U.S. Army which brought the team great experience with compliance and DevOps at scale. The interface continued to mature, new functionality to build structured data into relational databases called Express was added to the core.
Concrete CMS v9 - circa 2021
At this point the team decided to pivot again and make Concrete really compelling for the business market. The entire public facing web presence supporting the project was rebuilt from scratch to pay off a decade of cobbler's shoes code debt. The CMS interface was given an exhaustive facelift and modernization in the Version 9 release. The branding was updated to drop the 5 and go back to our original name: Concrete CMS. The core team at PortlandLabs, still led by Franz & Andy, are now focused on providing best of breed hosting and support for Concrete CMS.
Today, Concrete has reached across the world, sites of every nature are being built, and hundreds of thousands of people are using it to express themselves online.