How many of you are familiar with the name, Thord Daniel Hedengren? Thord is a veteran member of the WordPress community and over the past few years, we’ve seen him develop and release free themes, write a couple of books about WordPress and generally, just be a well rounded individual when it comes to the software. Those of us in the U.S. may not know him that well thanks to his location. Hopefully, this interview changes that.
I’ve seen your name a number of times, especially during my short employment with Performancing.com. Can you give us a brief background as to who you are and where you call home?
Home is where I am at the moment, which means the French Alps as I’m writing this. Most of the time it is Stockholm (capital of Sweden, Land of Kings), so we could call that my home.
As for my background, well it started out with me not having enough money to print my magazine back in the 90s, so I figured I’d give this internet thing a go. I got started publishing sites (in Swedish) out of necessity, and from there on it became a slightly unhealthy obsession. I got tired of my Swedish website empire in 2005 and sold it off, started blogging about “new media” in English, and that kicked off a freelancing career, both as a writer for various blogs and online magazines and as a WordPress developer.
Basically, I do what I want to do, wherever I want to do it. Isn’t the internet wonderful?
What got you started and involved with theme creation with WordPress?
I went from developing my own publishing software with my friends, to embracing open source. It all started with forum software actually, and the realization that open source was really rewarding as a publisher. That made me look to platforms such as WordPress, and I actually converted a fairly large website to 1.5, tagging everything with the Ultimate Tag Warrior plugin. It was pretty groundbreaking back then since the site wasn’t even remotely close to a blog.
Every platform and system I’ve learned over the years has come out of necessity. I’m curious by nature, that helps, but I never dive into anything just for making a profit as a consultant or something like that. Those things usually follow by themselves anyway.
What is the WordPress situation like in your part of the world? For example, do you have meetups local to your area?
It’s been slow going in Sweden actually, we had the first WordCamp in Stockholm last Autumn, hosted by yours truly obviously, at a museum which was pretty cool. There are some photos in the Flickr group if you’re interested. Before that there have been some local meetups and such, but usually when we meet it’s not WordPress only, so to speak. We do have the #wpbar events, which I founded along with some like minded enthusiasts and agencies, but that’s basically an excuse to get together, talk WordPress, and drink beer courtesy of sponsors.
It’s getting better though, with unconferences popping up everywhere, and WordPress as such have a really strong position in Sweden. Maybe that’s why there’s been a lack of dedicated events – it’s ever present anyway.
What are your thoughts on the state of themes in the WordPress ecosystem e.g. parent themes, frameworks, etc?
Well, first of all, branding a theme as a “framework” to me is nothing more than trying to ride the hype. Seriously, every theme is a possible framework the way these things work, surely more or less suited, but I find the term misleading. I do approve of the way themes are going though, being designed with enhancements and build-upons in mind from the start.
I think parent and child themes are great, and I hope that the wordpress.org theme directory will improve when it comes to listing these. It’s in the works already, and some child themes are listed (although they need to be branded more clearly) already, so I’m pretty happy with that.
What I’m less than thrilled about is the “premium” themes. First of all, I think the word “premium” is misleading, “commercial” is a way better choice, because there’s certainly nothing “premium” about a lot of the $69 themes. You wouldn’t believe how many emails I get each month asking me if I can help them fix this or that theme they bought. There are some truly excellent commercial themes out there, and I wish the theme designers all the best, but this part of the theme ecosystem doesn’t appeal to me at all.
Oh, and I hope the roll-out of commercial themes on wordpress.com will speed up, with some general submission process soon. This invite only structure leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but hopefully that’s just Automattic trying to make sure that everything works the way it should.
Finally, I’m a big believer that themes should be GPL, and luckily the community agrees with me, at least officially.
One of the first books you wrote and published was called Smashing WordPress – Beyond The Blog. Based on reports and feedback I read on Twitter, it was a smashing success. Can you tell us how the book came about and if it’s success will lead to a second edition?
Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, 2nd Edition will be published in April this year. There should be pre-orders and whatnot available on Amazon and other fine online retailers any day now. I’m really happy to have been able to do a second edition of the book, to WordPress 3.1 obviously but also because this one looks a lot better. As far as I know, Beyond the Blog was the first book in the Smashing book series, and the publisher have continued to improve the look and feel of the books.
Oh, and it’ll be in full color this time around as well, which I’m happy with. Especially since I knew it from the start, which I didn’t when I wrote the first book. That’s why we were so shy on images in Beyond the Blog – full color wasn’t on the table until the end of the production.
For more about my books, including the one I’m writing right now, check out http://tdh.me/books/ (shameless self promotion ends now).
As for how it came to be, I wrote a blog post about WordPress as a CMS, which got some nice links and buzz. A while later my publisher (Wiley) emailed and asked if I wanted to write a book, and I said sure, sent an outline, and that was it basically. A few contracts Fedexed over the world, a small (compared to the ones I’m getting now at least) advance, and a truly hectic period of writing later, I could sit back knowing that I’d written my first book in English.
Everything good that has happened to me in the last five years or so, professionally, have started with a blog post. That’s pretty cool.
As I understand your latest entry into the print world is a new book entitled Smashing WordPress Themes. Can you provide us with a basic overview of what’s covered in this book?
The idea with Smashing WordPress Themes: Making WordPress Beautiful is to teach the reader how to develop WordPress themes. As with Beyond the Blog, I’m starting at the basics, and build up with examples of sites you can do with WordPress, how you can solve the most common issues, and so on. Obviously the book covers things like template tags and conditional tags, but what I really think is the killer is how the reader can follow the development of several themes. My goal is to get the reader to understand the tools at hand, and I try to get the wheel’s spinning in his or her head. If the reader gets ideas for sites or themes when reading my Smashing WordPress books, I think I’ve succeeded.
The table of contents, along with some other info about the book, is available here: http://tdh.me/books/smashing-wordpress-themes-making-wordpress-beautiful/
If I were a beginner not only to using WordPress but also web development in general, do you think this book would be over my head?
It might be. I usually say that if you know a bit of HTML and CSS, maybe can grasp PHP, then you can learn working with WordPress from both my books. It’s more a matter of your understanding of scripting languages (of the simpler kind) than how green you are. This one’s a tough one, I won’t tell you what an HTML tag is for example, so basic knowledge of that is necessary.
The print world moves at the pace of a snail. While the book covers WordPress 3.0.1, is it still relevant with the release of WordPress 3.1?
Sure is. Thankfully, the step from 3.0 to 3.1 wasn’t huge. I still get happy emails about the first edition of Smashing WordPress: Beyond the Blog, which definitely isn’t up to speed, so it’s not all about featuring the latest functions you can play with. Although that’s more fun, obviously.
But yeah, it’s frustrating, this dead trees business! This isn’t the point and shoot of the web after all, which sometimes is a good thing, but not without its drawbacks when it comes to tech books.
Last but not least, as a theme developer, I’ll provide you the opportunity to tell me what the future of themes are as we progress into 2011?
I’m afraid the future is more commercial themes and fewer truly great free themes. This makes me sad, actually, because I think it is hurting the WordPress platform. I hope that child themeing will take off since that could mean more options for end users. Other than that, we’ll get more settings, themes will get more advanced, and hence often less optimized. I know I come across as negative here, but these things concern me. Overall the theme ecosystem and the WordPress community is in great shape and I’m happy to be a part of it. I’ll obviously do my part on the free front as well, with Notes Blog (http://notesblog.com) releases and minor stuff besides that. Hopefully others will do the same and we can get a healthy mixture of free and paid.
I’ll stay free, by the way. That’s my way of giving back to the community.
Great interview and interesting to see what TDH is all about except for the occasional #wpse tweets.
But this last part I disagree with completly.
Commercial themes is what has really made a difference when it comes to increasing the interest in WordPress. Most free themes in the wp.org directory look terrible. There ain’t a whole lot of truly great looking free themes to choose from. There is really nothing negative about an increase in commercial themes. It won’t cause the user adoption to slow down one iota. If anything could cause a problem to the user base and more importantly the developer and business base it is the attitude and arrogance that far too often rears its ugly head among the top and in some degree within the community itself.
And I don’t really understand the animosity against commercial theme/plugin endeavors. Is TDH on the “free as in beer” band wagon? Since not even Matt goes to that extreme. Just curious.
I for one hope the WP community becomes a friendlier and more open, as in welcoming of different opinions, place in 2011.