A couple of years ago, Morten Rand-Hendriksen launched WP Rig for WordPress. The goal was to bring a modern starter theme and build process to the theme development community. Now, he and the current team are hoping to find someone new to keep the project moving. Whoever is chosen will gain outright ownership of the project.
Rand-Hendriksen will be hosting a Zoom meeting on Friday, August 21 at 8 am PST. The meeting is planned to last 30 minutes with a possible additional 30 minutes for a Q&A session. He will update the WP Rig blog with the format and agenda for the meeting this week. Anyone interested in WP Rig’s future is free to attend.
“The ideal candidate is someone who has the interest, time, and drive to keep the project going,” said Rand-Hendriksen. “Future owners, maintainers, peers, etc. will be expected to adhere to the established governance model, which outlines roles, responsibilities, powers, and how to ‘climb the ladder’ if you will.”
Before taking the reins, candidates will meet with Rand-Hendriksen and other legacy maintainers of the project. The goal is to sort out the logistics of the handover.
“Once the project is handed over to new owners and maintainers, the project becomes their project,” said Rand-Hendriksen. “That means they can take it in whatever direction they feel is meaningful and valuable for the community. This is a true handover: we, the legacy maintainers, are not imposing our view of what WP Rig should be in the future onto the new owners and maintainers. We will impart our knowledge and vision, and let the next generation of the WP Rig team lay down their own path into the future.”
Ideally, the official WordPress Themes Team would take on the WP Rig project or at least its own version of a starter theme. However, the team lacks the resources to make it happen. Some members are interested but no one has the time to contribute to it at the moment, according to Themes Team representative William Patton.
“If the TRT wants to adopt the project, they take precedence over all other interested parties,” said Rand-Hendriksen. “The intent of WP Rig was always to donate the project to the larger WordPress Open Source project, and the TRT would be the ideal group to hand the keys to.”
The Unexplored Future of Full-Site Editing
Whoever takes on the WP Rig project will be in a position to explore the great unknown of full-site editing. An early version of the feature is expected to land in WordPress 5.6 later this year. This could mean overhauling the project and taking it in an entirely new direction than originally envisioned. It is a tall order and will require someone with the time and ability to keep up with drastic changes in the coming months.
Rand-Hendriksen and the team did some experimental work with Block Areas and WP Rig Blockade, a variant of the original WP Rig theme that explored blocks outside of the content area. However, the repositories have seen little work in the last year and a half. Rand-Hendriksen said they got too caught up in releasing version 2.0 of WP Rig to see either of those projects come to fruition.
“As the WordPress community starts exploring what blocks everywhere means, it is more important than ever to have this unifying base to start from so everyone is talking the same language and using the same tools,” he said. “When I had to step away, this was my deepest regret: that I wouldn’t be part of shaping this next evolution of the platform and wouldn’t be able to help the community develop this unifying baseline.”
Rand-Hendriksen believes that full-site editing will only be successful with buy-in from the existing theme development community. Without active participation from these developers, full-site editing could split the community into traditional vs. modern theming.
“There is a lot of money at stake, and a lot of developers deeply invested in and financially dependent on the status quo of themes,” he said. “To bring them on board and explore the future of themes, there needs to be a unified baseline to start from, and this is the opportune time to introduce modern code, tools, and standards. WP Rig can be a catalyst for this project and can also be the foundation on which such a project is built. What is it open source evangelists always say? ‘Decisions are made by those who show up.’ This is a chance to not just show up but actively guide the community into a collaborative future.”
He feels like WP Rig’s new owners will be in a position to answer one of the questions looming over the WordPress project: What should full-site editing look like?
WP Rig is far more advanced than the starter themes of yesteryear. However, it is not alone. Of the many starter themes available throughout the WordPress development community, many of them have moved on to include modern build systems and tooling that were not a part of earlier projects such as Underscores (_s), which is the closest thing to an “official” starter theme project WordPress has ever seen.
“When I first came up with the idea of WP Rig, it was because I’d been maintaining a very popular LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda.com) course on building themes from scratch using _s for years, and I noticed _s and WP themes, in general, were lagging further and further behind the general trends of web development,” said Rand-Hendriksen. “WordPress themes are by and large still built as if it’s 2012, not 2020, and many of the most important advances of the web dev space are not generally in use in theme development. As the project evolved from my personal experiment to a team, we made a decision to start from scratch and say ‘if someone were to build a theme today, in 2018, with today’s tools and best practices, what would that look like?’ The result is a theme building tool using modern build processes and tooling to make theme development easier. Yes, it looks nothing like the standard starter themes, but like I said, the standard starter themes look like the web in 2012.”
There is still some sentiment within the WordPress community that web development is shifting too far from its roots of understanding the basics of HTML, CSS, and entry-level PHP. Have we moved past the point where those simple foundations were enough to build WordPress themes in the modern world?
“Is this harder to understand for beginners?” asked Rand-Hendriksen. “If you start from the assumption that anything other than the good old way of building themes is ‘harder,’ then yes, absolutely. If you start from the perspective of WordPress themes being many people’s first hands-on experience with web development, and WordPress having a responsibility to introduce people to current and forward-thinking web tooling, then I think the answer is no.”
WP Rig also gives theme authors a leg up with accessibility out of the box. Rand-Hendriksen has long been a vocal supporter of pushing for accessibility standards in themes, so it makes sense that the starter that he spearheaded approaches development with accessibility at the forefront.
“I’ve developed themes for 15+ years and taught theme development for over a decade,” said Rand-Hendriksen. “One of the major roadblocks for theme development is the lack of an official unified tool to start from. _s served that role for a while, but it is now poorly maintained, sluggish in development, and lagging significantly behind where standards and modern tooling is concerned. WordPress needs something similar to ‘create react app’ has had for a long time. WP Rig was created to serve as a base, or as inspiration, for such a project: provide an official starting theme and build process to give people a unified place to work from and a unified base to contribute back to and improve so the community can lift itself up together.”
I wish all the best to the future of WP Rig! However, I would like to add that _s has received some improvements regarding the build process this year. Nothing near WP Rig but there is definitely something going on with the project. Anyway, I think there should be an official starter theme with a modern build process and full compatibility with wherever Gutenberg is headed.