Justin Tadlock

The WordPress theme directory needs an upgrade

The WordPress theme directory was opened last July. It currently houses 700 themes and has surpassed 4 million downloads. For anyone that’s wondering, those are good numbers to be looking at if you’re a part of the WordPress community.

Now that the project has seen some success, it’s time to give the directory a much-needed upgrade.

When the theme directory launched, Joseph Scott wrote:

With the success of the plugins directory, we’ve wanted to have those same benefits in a theme directory.

But, the theme directory is missing some key components of the plugin directory.

What needs to be added to the theme directory

Uploading a theme right now is easy, but there’s a barrier that we don’t have with the plugin repository. With plugins, you simply type the name of your plugin, description, and optional URL. Once that’s done, you’re given access to the Subversion repository (usually within a day). You can upload and/or update your plugin at any time within 15 minutes.

With themes, you must upload a zip file and wait for someone to approve it within a day or so. This is done on the first upload and every update.

What happens if you made a mistake and want to fix it? You can’t update it in 15 minutes on the repository. You have to repeat the upload process and wait for it to be approved again.

Another useful thing missing is the ability to add custom sections to the theme’s page through the readme.txt file, which is also a plugin repository feature. Imagine how beneficial it would be to users if theme authors could add installation instructions and a FAQ to each theme’s page.

Quality control and Subversion

Subversion access allows us to quickly and easily update plugins. Plus, it helps us keep track of different versions. Judging by Scott’s post, I’m not sure Subversion access has ever been planned for themes.

We’ve gone through great lengths to make this as painless as possible for theme authors. You don’t need to know anything about Subversion.

To be perfectly honest, I’d rather not use a theme created by someone that couldn’t figure out how to use the Subversion repository. And, this sounds like a bit of a cop-out.

It seems they’re really telling us that they want to control the flow of themes through the site. They want to make sure themes carry that GPL license. Make sure they have all the suitable CSS classes and other such things that themes require.

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of quality control on the theme directory. In fact, I expect it.

Maybe the missing link is trust

There are better ways to control the quality of themes being shown on the site. For example, we could allow users to flag themes (plugins too) as breaking the rules or as not being good enough for the directory.

Theme authors have gotten a bit of a bad rep over the years. We first had the sponsored links predicament back in 2007 and the more recent purging of over 200 themes from the directory.

Basically, themes have been used to game the system.

One would think we’d be past that point. Allow the community to deal with the things that shouldn’t belong. Things of the past are hurting those of us trying to play by the rules now.

I really just want Subversion access

I’m not sure of the real reasoning behind the differences of the plugin and theme directory. I suspect it’s either that theme authors are seen as being too dumb to use Subversion or there’s no trust. If the former, I am deeply offended. If the latter, we need a better system.

It just feels like I’m stepping back into the Dark Ages anytime I need to update my theme on the repository.

What are your thoughts? Should theme authors be given the same access as plugin developers? Or, should the system stay the same? Are there any specific features you’d like to see added?

Also, has anyone heard any news on whether child themes are/will be allowed?