Justin Tadlock, a notable theme developer in the WordPress community recently published his thoughts on why the WordPress theme repository is in need of an upgrade. Among his arguments is that the ability to update a theme via subversion needs to be added, the community needs a way to police itself and the ability to add custom sections of the readme.txt file so that theme authors can provide installation and F.A.Q. sections to their readme file. In the comments, Joseph Scott who is largely responsible for the repository responded to most of Justin’s queries.
While I enjoy the redesigned look of the repository, it sure isn’t fun to browse around. On the repository front page you’re presented with the most popular themes, featured themes, newest themes, recently updated themes and last but not least, a search box. The only time you can really click around via tags is when you visit a themes info page which displays the tags for that theme. I couldn’t find any categories as I believe they have been substituted with the use of tags.
While the old theme repository didn’t look the best, it did provide a wealth of filters for narrowing down the search for themes which matched your configured criteria. Considering there is 702 themes on the repository right now, I’m not sure what could be done to improve browsing around for a new theme that would be enabled from this day forward and be compatible with all previously uploaded themes. Honestly, I’d like to see the number of filters that existed before, come back in some sort of slick interface. Perhaps something that works like the Screen Options button in the 2.7 administration panel which controls what shows up on the dashboard.
Now here is something I simply don’t understand. When I am in the process of looking for cool themes to use, the theme repository is the last place I look. Why is that? Not to burst anyone’s bubble but the themes on the repository are crap when compared to commercial oriented themes or themes which are not on the repository but maintained locally by the theme author. When I say crap, I mean themes which have awful color schemes, terrible layouts, and just plain bad looks. I know one thing, in a strange sort of way, I believe premium WordPress themes have furthered the development of free themes but that is definitely not evident on the theme repository.
So I wonder if the theme repository is just used to get the word out about the first theme someone develops and then as they get better, they get off of the repository and do things on their own? Whatever the case is, I think it sucks that the repository is one of the last places I look for well designed, boundary pushing themes. However, I will note that I am beginning to notice many theme authors who produced great themes for free for the community are now developing their own theme frameworks and thus, creating child themes which they are either selling for a price, or you can not get the full documentation or help on the theme without paying a price. At some point in time, the WordPress Theme Repository may be the last safe haven for themes which are free all the way around, despite their quality.