Personality and WordPress Themes

What will happen to the WordPress Themes community as the main portal for theme downloads moves from a host of developer sites and their interlinked communities to the individual WordPress administrator’s Theme Panel—much like what has happened, and is happening, with WordPress Plugins?

I imagine this will have an effect on pay-to-download WordPress themes. Every year there are more and more new WordPress users, and every year there will be more and more users using only the Themes Panel to find their WordPress themes. And likely limiting their search to the top 15. I predict these users will rarely seek out, or even consider, other theme choices.

But what will happen to the free WordPress Theme community that produces the themes hosted on the current directory? What will happen when the personality of the theme designer is muted? When their ego can’t be fed with traffic and links and what have you? When no one knows or cares about them. When their theme is just another thing on WordPress.org?

What then?

Don’t get me wrong, I like the WordPress theme directory and I’m anxiously looking forward to Theme update notifications and automatic download-updates. I just worry that where we’re gaining a strength we’re also gaining a major weakness.

13 thoughts on “Personality and WordPress Themes

  1. Ian,
    If that happens (and I really hope it doesn’t) … the majority of users getting themes from the theme browser in their dashboard … then the theme community will die.

    There has always been a deep difference between plugin and theme developers.

    Plugin developers (and core devs, for that matter) tend to program because they love it. They write cool code, and nothing would make them happier than to have their plugin make it into core (rendering their plugin useless).

    Theme developers (generally) like attention and credit. They aren’t releasing free themes because they just want to be nice. That may be a part of it, but the main reason is attention, credit, and fans. (I’m speaking personally here)

    Take that away, and you’ll lose that group of people.

  2. It will turn out to be a non-issue.

    Somebody will develop a GPL plugin that allow adding outside theme and plugin repositories to the WordPress interface. Then we’ll have real diversity, as repositories compete for hosting the best plugins and themes.

    This has all played out in the FOSS community many times before. Theme and plugin authors will have to change how they promote, but in the end it should be easier to find an audience.

  3. @Nathan I think we’re both thinking that the same thing except I can’t see how the majority of WordPress users won’t get their themes straight from the dashboard (or from the dashboard to the theme directory—same difference).

    It’s like the opposite of the Joomla problem where everything cool costs you. WordPress might have the Drupal problem: when everything happens on the official site there’s less incentive to do something cool.

    One of those things where you hope you’re proved wrong.

    But maybe it’ll just clear a path for the extraordinary and remarkable. A wheat and chaff sort of thing. We’ll see.

  4. Not to be conspiratorial, but part of me fears that the “centralization” of themes and plugins is less about users, and more about control.

    I’m not saying that having the central repo for themes/plugins doesn’t benefit users … it obviously does. But with that comes an EXTREME level of leverage in the hands of, essentially, one person. And like I said, part of me suspects that is by design.

    Just an observation.

  5. I think both you and Nathan are overestimating the power of centralization and the strength and diversity of the community right now.

    First, cool things can still happen with a centralized repository. And the big advantage–especially for new or unknown theme developers–is that you can quickly get a lot of attention for your new thing. More people are likely to see a theme in the repository than on a page on almost any developer’s site.

    Also, while I do think that cool things happen in the WordPress community, it’s not exactly like it’s current form is ideal. Even if you count premium themes development, there are maybe 50 developers with much skill making cool things. And most of those are making, at best, one cool thing every few months. Even then, most of those cool things are done in premium themes that are effectively closed source (so the cool things aren’t much discussed, critiqued, or replicated).

    Certainly I don’t think a theme panel will solve this problem, but I’m not sure it would really make it much worse. About one percent of theme users have more than a cursory interest in modifying them, and about one percent of those want to do much more than change a color, size, or font here or there. That small percentage that were interested in development would still easily find the personal blogs and personalities in the community. But the majority of users, who never would have cared, will find the going far easier.

    And a sidenote: you’d actually get more loosely-defined “links” when your theme can be easily installed and used than you would now. The easier it is to use and alter WordPress, the more likely it is that someone will use something other than a default theme, and the more likely it is that you’ll get a footer link. (Sure a footer link’s not the same as a body link, but it is a link.)

  6. I think with all that said, while @ianstewart, @nathanrice, @david bring up good points, another major deciding factor of this comes down to how a theme author markets themselves. I think if a theme author can get creative with their offerings, maybe not being in the official repo might be added benefit. Time will tell.

  7. @Ptah For sure. Remarkableness trumps everything. Although, I can’t think of a position where not being in the official directory is a benefit—unless it’s a licensing/payment thing.

  8. @Ian,
    I do think that there are a rare few people who have the reputation and talent to boycott the theme repo. But, they are indeed rare.

    Also, if you happen to make a theme that doesn’t fit well with the default demo site at the repo, hosting your own demo and files could be beneficial. But you make a good point … being in the repo gets you downloads. Although, it doesn’t necessarily get you any traffic. I personally want both downloads and traffic.

    It wouldn’t surprise me AT ALL if weblogtoolscollection.com stopped featuring free themes that aren’t hosted at the repo. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen, but it’s definitely a possibility.

  9. theme that doesn’t fit well with the default demo site

    To digress: I’m surprised more people don’t leave home page wackiness to a custom page template instead of mutilating index.php (or home.php). I guess it’s one more step for a user. But it makes sense to me to think; “blog” theme first, “site” theme second.

  10. Talking about all this centralization, quite recently cforms II plugin (the most popular form builder plugin) was pulled from the plugins listing on wordpress.org because it broke the GPL licence. Believe it or not the author just launched version 10.2 with GPL.

    I’m not sure what that’s all about but I have a feeling the author reconsidered it’s position after loosing vital exposure on the wordpress.org and the impossibility for users to upgrade automatically.

    Now to return to our topic I don’t think people will jump to the first theme they find. Having the possibility to browse thought hundreds of themes they will do so. And we should stop thinking as men do, stopping for the first thing that catches our eye. There are more and more girls blogging out there and they are picky… I mean really picky! Chances are they won’t stop until they find that “perfect” theme.

    I believe this will even-out somehow. And if it dosen’t … where there’s always @Dave’s idea.

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