Earlier this week, Jason Pelker wrote an excellent post for WPCandy.com entitled, How did ThemeForest become the red headed stepchild of the WordPress community? Jason takes a look at the various reasons for how this could have happened. However, the conversation turns pretty interesting in the comments when the discussion of quality control at ThemeForest takes precedence over the original question.
Personally, I have not mentioned ThemeForest on WPTavern because of the licensing issues. However, that is now not a problem as the PHP of themes on ThemeForest are GPL while the other components don’t have to be. I don’t do any business with the company as well which is another reason why I don’t mention them much.
The conversation in the comments was interesting because most of the complaints regarding ThemeForest were among some of the same complaints that are always mentioned when discussing the WordPress.org Theme Repository. The biggest issue it seems is that ThemeForest lacks quality control. With a repository containing a ton of themes written by various people, you’re going to run into problems, especially if there is not some sort of gatekeeper. Speaking of gatekeepers, that’s exactly what the WordPress.org Theme Repository has now in the Theme Reviewer team. Unfortunately, the theme reviewer team has taken some heat.
I’ve been in favor of establishing a plugin and theme review team since I became involved in the WordPress community. I saw the success such an idea had within the phpBB community and thought it wouldn’t be a problem for WordPress to do the same thing. Recently though, I’ve started to see a couple of theme authors pull their themes off of the repository or announce that future updates of the theme would discontinue because of the theme reviewing process. Without panicking, this is only a sign that the process is broken somewhat as the goal should not be to stifle development but create a learning process for theme authors. To the theme review teams credit, they are constantly refining the process as situations or ideas merit.
To bring this back full circle, we have ThemeForest which lacks quality control while at the same time, the theme repository on WordPress.org is complained about for having quality control. How do you solve the problem so that both parties can benefit? With regards to the WordPress.org Theme Repository, I think that the review process should be as automated as possible. At the very least, provide a Theme Validation tool where theme authors could upload their theme and the files along with the code structure can be analyzed for inconsistencies or the use of deprecated functions. As far as I know, something like this was already occurring before a theme was allowed on the repository but a tool like this would be more advanced and cover more code/functions. If the theme fails the validation, there are clear instructions on how to fix that with links to documentation if necessary. Once the theme passes validation, they are encouraged to submit their theme to go through the formal review process. Since the reviewers will most likely put the theme through the validation tool themselves to check the results, having the theme pass the validation on the first try during the review process is key to a speedy submission process for theme authors. At least this way, the reviewer just has to look at various bits of code just to see if there is any hanky panky that the tool missed.
The solution I propose is much harder than it seems since who gets to decide what a theme should have or it shouldn’t? Who decides on what basis the validation tool will accept or deny a specific function? At the end of the day though, I think the review process will be a win-win situation for WordPress users that depend on the repository for themes. As for theme design, well, that’s a different story.
To those on the theme review team, I thank you for volunteering your time and effort to help make things better for all of us, despite the rough edges the process currently has.