Earlier this year, the WordPress plugin directory was redesigned. As part of the redesign, download counts were replaced with the number of Active Installs to reflect more accurate data. The WordPress theme directory has finally followed suit by replacing download counts with the number of Active Installs.
As you can see from the above screenshot, the Twenty Fifteen default theme included in WordPress 4.1, 4.2, and 4.3, is active on more than one million sites. Active themes are those that are activated and in use on a site. Themes that are installed and not activated are not counted, neither are child themes.
In the Themereview Slack Channel, Tom Usborne explains why active installs for child themes should be counted.
I think an argument for child themes to be included in the active installs count can be made. For example, we offer a completely blank child theme for our customers so they can make CSS and PHP adjustments. This means our install count isn’t accurate on w.org, even though those people are using the theme actively.
Dion Hulse, WordPress lead developer, agrees that child themes should be counted but the team doesn’t have the data yet. Some theme authors are concerned that new themes will have a tough time making it on the popular themes page.
Originally, the popular themes page was determined by the number of downloads over the previous week, which led to some authors to try to game the system. Hulse says, “The actual comparison between active installs and the previous week’s downloads were very similar, except for a handful of themes that had a lot more downloads than installs.”
Hulse plans to experiment with the algorithms to give newer themes a chance, “I’m also looking at ranking popular themes based on the age of the theme and installs, which will help promote some of the newer themes,” he said.
Thanks to active install counts for themes, we can see which default WordPress theme is the most popular.
- Twenty Fifteen 1+ Million
- Twenty Fourteen 800K+
- Twenty Twelve 500K+
- Twenty Eleven 500K+
- Twenty Ten 300K+
- Twenty Thirteen 300K+
Download counts are a terrible way to determine a theme or plugin’s popularity which is why I support this change. It’s more accurate and helps to further level the playing field for authors. Are you a fan of the change and if you’re a theme author, what other stats would you like to see?
I do like the active installs info being displayed, but it would also be nice to keep the total downloads as well. I keep (kept) a download tally of themes for my site visitors, but now becomes obsolete…unless I change things up to be the active installs of my free themes + premium theme purchases. Still, having the total downloads + active install info visible helps give one an idea of how many are using the theme out of the total downloads.
For the end-user, they can probably judge the quality of the theme based on active installs and compare it with the themes age. Perhaps seeing a download count can add to that determination too.
As for the popular list, this is something that could be of huge concern for many theme authors.