The WordPress.org Theme Review Team has just wrapped up a busy year of adding new themes, approving updates, and overhauling procedures. In 2015, the team reviewed and approved 910 new themes with the help of 236 reviewers, according to TRT member Ulrich Pogson.
Despite their best efforts, the team cannot keep up with the massive influx of themes. The queue has been bogged down by submissions from authors whose themes have not been run against Theme Unit Test Data and the Theme Check Plugin.
At the end of 2015, some theme authors were waiting two or more months before their first review. One of the reasons, according to TRT member Justin Tadlock, is that many of the themes submitted are far from ready to be approved upon their initial review.
“The majority of themes submitted don’t follow the guidelines, which considerably slows down the process,” Tadlock said. “Themes will often have 20-30 issues or more. If we can get to a point where the majority of submissions only have a few minor issues, we really wouldn’t have a queue.”
Automation is Coming Soon
The Theme Review Team made a number of controversial decisions at the beginning of 2015, including the move to require theme authors to use the customizer for building theme options. Negative pushback from the community came to a head when the team started cracking down on violations of the presentation vs. functionality guideline.
At the end of May, Matt Mullenweg joined in on the Theme Review Team’s slack channel and challenged them to look at the review process and directory in a new way, opening up new avenues for the team to pursue in improving that experience. This was a watershed moment for the Theme Review Team that resulted in the unanimous approval of a new roadmap to improve the directory and review process.
The team is now moving towards more automation, the first item on the roadmap, starting with auto-approval of theme updates. Automation will make a major impact on the time themes spend in the queue. The team has yet to implement it fully, because they’re still putting the code in place to improve the system.
2015 Theme Review Team Milestones
Despite delays on the roadmap, the Theme Review Team implemented many excellent changes during 2015, especially pertaining to education and documentation. In February, the team updated the Theme Review Handbook to include design recommendations. These recommendations were created to encourage design feedback on submissions to the directory and are formatted to help the theme author think more critically about design decisions.
Following the new requirement for WordPress.org themes to use the customizer for creating options, the TRT rallied, putting together more customizer resources and documentation. Nick Halsey assisted the team by updating the Theme Developer Handbook with a comprehensive guide to the customizer API. The team also began curating a library of code examples on GitHub for theme developers, with the first section devoted to customizer code.
When WordPress 4.3 added the site icons feature, the Theme Review Team began working with authors to phase out favicon support in themes. By the time WordPress 4.5 rolls around, all themes hosted in the official directory should be on track to use the core-supported method of adding site icons.
In July, the team voted to allow themes to use the WP REST API plugin, officially welcoming these new types of themes into the directory.
Throughout 2015, the Theme Review team moved quickly to navigate new waters as WordPress core improved. All of these initiatives and resources were created in addition to the 910 new themes that were reviewed and added to the directory. This is remarkable, given that the team is primarily made up of volunteers.
With the improved tools coming in 2016, WordPress.org theme authors can expect faster reviews, freeing up more time for reviewers to focus on improving the directory, creating more educational resources, and mentoring new reviewers.
I remember seeing the team add a massive load of themes that were lost in the mix for up to 5 months back into the queue ahead of others which then pushed current themes back about 2 months. I was like, WTF! But then you realize these are authors who were left way behind due to reviewers abandoning the review, so you can’t help but feel sorry for them waiting so long. On a good note, the review team picked up steam in November to go through that backlog and went through them all.
I am definitely looking forward to the auto updates, because I hated telling people, sorry, you have to wait for the update to go live.
The Handbook is getting better, but I still believe many authors don’t really use it as often as they should…one of many reasons why there are so many themes submitted that are not ready.
I know the review team hated this idea, but I mentioned before that design quality is something that needs attention on reviews. I see too many themes submitted, reviewed, and go live that really should not have been. I know it’s subjective and hard to review design quality, but reviews are only “code” based. I bet I could submit a 1990 FrontPage developed design with animated gifs, neon colours everywhere, falling snowflakes, and flashing banners…..as long as the code is 100% it would end up in the directory. Hmmm…I should try that, lol :)
However, on a more serious note, I can definitely say that for the last year or two, we’re beginning to see a lot more professional looking themes with great design and style that are getting into the directory. One can see this as an opportunity to challenge theme authors to create and submit better looking themes.
I’m looking forward to what happens this year, because I plan on submitting a lot more themes to the directory…at least 12 more for 2016.