Last week, the official Theme Review Team (TRT) decided to change its name. The re-branding was mostly about fixing a naming mistake for a team with multiple responsibilities outside of reviews. The hope is that it also shifts the public perception about what the team does.
The idea isn’t new. The team has tossed the concept of a name change around for a few years. It was always going to become the Themes Team unless another naming idea came around and stole the spotlight.
The original concept of changing the name was about inviting others in. To most, the team had been little more than the gatekeepers to the theme directory. However, its members and the work they do for the community reach beyond that scope. Few know or recognize its role outside of reviewing themes, which makes it tougher to bring people on board.
“We realized that we are doing all these theme-related things — work on Twenty Twenty, coding standards, meta stuff, reviews, helping out with full-site editing in any capacity we can, etc. — that being just the Theme Review Team just didn’t make any sense,” said Denis Žoljom, the team’s automation representative. “So we discussed that idea with Josepha [Haden]. In principle, she had nothing against it, so we decided to just go ahead and do the name change.”
The team is in the process of renaming some things, such as its GitHub organization. It will take a little time to get everything in order.
The Themes Team’s primary mission is not changing in terms of reviewing themes. They will continue taking on that role of making sure themes meet coding and security standards, which is a vital and oftentimes thankless task.
“We are reviewing themes as usual, but we are more experimenting with full-site editing,” said Žoljom. “I’m playing with Gutenberg outside of the editor context in my own projects, so that also gives me a perspective to see what things will change. We are still maintaining the WPThemeReview. Theme Check has seen tons of improvements by Carolina [Nymark], which should be merged on .ORG soon. Ari [Stathopoulos] is working on some Gutenberg-related projects. I have the GitHub review flow that I’d like to explore soon.”
Žoljom recently dropped the Theme Sniffer plugin, which was a useful tool for theme authors to check their theme against the WPThemeReview coding standards. He did not have the help from the larger theme developer community to continue working on it. Developers can still use the CLI to check their themes. The plugin was a nice stepping stone for theme authors who are less savvy at typing commands, but projects live and die based on participation.
The team representatives want to bring new contributors to the team. “Reviewing themes is an exhausting and complicated process,” said Žoljom, “and, unfortunately, most people give up very fast.” The team also needs fresh blood so that it can rotate through reps. Few people have the necessary experience to fill this role, and the current reps will eventually burn out.
“We want to work on more interesting projects that will bring new people who are willing to help with them,” said Žoljom. “Especially around full-site editing that is coming to core soon. It’s a big change, and the more contributors we have to help and test things the better.”
The Evolving Team
Ari Stathopoulos, the theme packages representative, pointed out the elephant in the room. The name of the team represented a public perception issue. In part, the team name did not make an appealing case for a newcomer to join the team. On the other side of the aisle, it meant the team was sometimes left out on the .ORG side of things, such as not being brought in on key decisions that affect themes.
“People don’t know that we do all the things we do,” said Stathopoulos. “They believe that all this team does is reviews because that’s what the name of the team was. The truth is that if something has to do with themes, we work on it. There are cases that we don’t, but that’s usually because of miscommunication. People don’t think of consulting with ‘reviewers’ before making changes that have an impact on themes. Hopefully, this re-branding of the team will eventually lead to better communication and understanding. It may take some time, but we’ll get there.”
The Themes Team is beginning to take on even more responsibility. It has been holding block-based themes meetings every two weeks in an attempt to keep everyone updated with the rapid theme-related changes happening in the Gutenberg project. The Make Themes blog will also be receiving weekly updates to help those who are unable to attend the meetings and offer another line of communication.
Arguably, the Themes Team will become one of the most important teams over the next year or so. It must bring in new volunteers to help the community transition to a different theme development experience.
“There is a definite shift of focus, and future themes should be easier to review, leaving this team more time and energy to focus on actions that will have more impact for the community,” said Stathopoulos. “So changing the name was not only correcting an old mistake but also paving the way for future actions we want to take.”