While I don’t normally write about WordPress.com happenings at WPTavern.com, the removal of Cutline for a new theme called Coraline is making headlines, and rightly so. The first reason why this is such a big story is because the Cutline theme was developed by Chris Pearson a few years ago. The same Chris Pearson that recently announced Thesis would be switching to a split licensed setup. Chris also has another theme on WordPress.com called Press Row which according to this comment by Matt, will be seeing a similar fate. Keep in mind though that his comment was made during a heated time period between Chris and Matt. Ian Stewart who is a member of the Automattic Theme team announced within the WordPress.com forums that licensing also played a role into its removal:
Cutline was sold a few years ago and had a more restrictive license placed on it. The original author of the Cutline theme has gone on to produce other themes with more restrictive licenses. Using Cutline has been seen as a promotion of that work and that’s not something we want to do–so, we made something better: Coraline! The state of the art in themes has advanced quite a bit since Cutline and we’re happy to make the switch.
*Note* David Peralty mentions in the comments that Cutline never had a more restrictive license and was always licensed under Creative Commons.
The second reason why this is a big story is the way in which the theme was introduced/switched. The post I linked to with Ian Stewart was created four days before the switch. The WordPress.com blog mentions nothing in the archive leading up to the switch that Cutline would be disappearing. Users of the service virtually had no time what so ever to transition to the new theme. It’s as if someone threw common sense out the window and felt that dealing with anger up front from users would be better than creating a smooth transition. There are plenty of ways in which this could have gone over better. For instance, at least give users thirty days prior to the switch. For those that don’t read the blog post, they could have written something that detected whether or not Cutline was activated as the theme in use and if so, display a custom Admin message within the dashboard with a link to the phase out post. A sticky forum post to go with the blog post would have been a nice touch. You wouldn’t be able to make everyone happy once the switch occurred but all of the information before hand would have softened the blow.
That’s the way I would have done it, certainly not the way it was done. The one pattern I’m beginning to take note of is the one in which drastic changes or decisions are made with little to no warning. There is always an uproar from those affected or upset by the change and after a period of time, life moves on without anything being done about the original decision. Happened with the removal of themes from the repository, the Capital P filter and now the removal of Cutline on WP.com. I suppose we can now expect the unexpected.