In case you didn’t know, every theme submitted to WordPress.org is required to meet a rigorous set of standards and guidelines. The theme must also gain the approval a highly skilled and dedicated team of experts, known as the Theme Review Team, who guard the doorway of the official WordPress Theme Directory. This is how WordPress.org ensures that the free themes offered are not full of malicious code.
You may recognize Emil Uzelac from his work on the Responsive theme, which became the most popular free theme on WordPress.org in just three months after its release. After about a year of trying to manage a full time support load for his free theme, Responsive was acquired by CyberChimps, a commercial theme shop. An interesting bit of history here is that Emil’s site ThemeID and his Responsive theme were the first case of anyone ever having a theme so popular on WordPress.org that it was eventually purchased.
Every day Emil sits down at his desk with his mug and headphones and spends a few hours going through tickets for theme reviews. He’s currently a Theme Review Team (TRT) Admin, as well as full-time reviewer and the Team Rep for the next three months.
Given that the team must be fanatical about standards, I assumed that making it in would be quite a long and difficult road. Email says that it’s actually quite a simple process: “My initiation three years ago was pretty similar to what we have now. A trainee requests a ticket and after several reviews gets promoted to what we call ‘full reviewer.’ Thereafter, that person can assign and review tickets on his own.”
Emil generally spends about 15 hours per week reviewing themes. To stay motivated while going through tickets, he likes to listen to electronica via Pandora. But his chief motivation are the users who will eventually be activating these themes.
Users are my main motivation. It’s my goal for users to experience no or fewer issues once the ticket is approved and the theme is available for download in directory. At the same time I am also motivated to educate new theme authors.
You may be curious about what kind of crazy code people try to stuff into free themes. I was surprised to learn that more often than not it’s simply standards that are ignored. I asked Emil what are some of the most common errors that he encounters when a theme is first submitted and he replied:
You can learn a lot about the theme just by opening a couple of parts like header.php and footer.php.
That is where most common errors are. Some of them would be improper scripts and styles inclusion, plugin-territory items such as META tags and the unavoidable stuff such as “SPAM” within credit links.
An Incentive Program to Bring the Review Queue Under Control
As you can imagine, reviewing all the themes that get submitted to WordPress.org is a colossal task. In July the TRT introduced an incentive program to help motivate reviewers to whittle down the queue. Emil believes that this has been a great benefit to the team:
The program works well and it gives authors the opportunity to be selected in the WordPress.org featured theme section. In my opinion WordPress.org is the best absolutely free way of getting that instant promotion!
The winners each month are allowed to select the featured themes and can even select their own themes if they wish. If you’re a WordPress theme developer and want to get your theme featured, consider volunteering your time with the Theme Review Team.
Advice to WordPress.org Theme Authors
After having a very successful free theme on WordPress.org and having served as a dedicated member of TRT for the past several years, Emil Uzelac has some sage words of advice for authors who decide to post a free theme on WordPress.org:
Support is not easy. However, to have a successful theme you must stay on top of it.
Subscribe to all related tags about you, your site and your theme, as well as the notification system by WPORG and Google Alerts for everything else. When this is established the rest will get easier. Have one thing in mind: WPORG users are simple but very fragile at the same time. Write good tutorials and docs to avoid answering the same questions all over again.
One last and very important thing:
Always ask for a rating and review after resolving each question and don’t forget to note that tickets need to be closed as well.
If you’re looking for a place to get involved at wordpress.org, the Theme Review Team could use some more active members. On average it takes about 30-35 minutes to completely review a theme. There are 118 reviewers but only 5-10 that are currently active. The four active admins include Emil, Chip Bennett, Edward Caissie and Mel (esmi). It’s a huge task for these few to manage but very rewarding in the end. Hats off to all of these folks who volunteer their time to make WordPress.org themes safe and standards-compliant. If you’d like to join, visit make.wordpress.org/themes and get signed up.