Meeting Notes | Matt, Josepha, and Theme Team

Attendees: Ari Stathopoulos, Carolina Nymark, Chloé Bringmann, Josepha Haden, Kelly Choyce-Dwan, Matt Mullenweg, Sandilya Kafle, William Patton

Purpose: This meeting was called in response to a recent post on WP Tavern: Upsells, Barriers, and the End/Beginning of the Quality of $free Themes Era.

All participants of the February 23rd call agreed that a diverse and thriving theme repository requires the current theme review process to be reframed to mirror the pluginPlugin A plugin is a piece of software containing a group of functions that can be added to a WordPress website. They can extend functionality or add new features to your WordPress websites. WordPress plugins are written in the PHP programming language and integrate seamlessly with WordPress. These can be free in the Plugin Directory or can be cost-based plugin from a third-party review process. The next steps include a list of review guard rails to be provided to the team by Matt and for MetaMeta Meta is a term that refers to the inside workings of a group. For us, this is the team that works on internal WordPress sites like WordCamp Central and Make WordPress. to develop specific automated tooling to reduce the burden of manual checks.

Theme Team Participants Overview

  • Carolina Nymark is a Yoast-sponsored contributor and has been active in WordPress for 11 years.
  • William Patton has contributed to the Theme Team for five years, currently at 8 hours/week.
  • Ari Stathopoulos considers himself at the soul, a themer. He is a Yoast-sponsored contributor in CoreCore Core is the set of software required to run WordPress. The Core Development Team builds WordPress. and GutenbergGutenberg The Gutenberg project is the new Editor Interface for WordPress. The editor improves the process and experience of creating new content, making writing rich content much simpler. It uses ‘blocks’ to add richness rather than shortcodes, custom HTML etc.
  • Sandilya Kafle has contributed his time for six years and is currently focused on themes.

Automattic Participants Overview

  • Matt Mullenweg is the co-founder of WordPress and its active project lead.
  • Josepha Haden is the current Executive Director of WordPress.
  • Kelly Choyce-Dwan works on the Meta team and has contributed to WordPress for eleven years.
  • Chloé Bringmann supports Josepha, the Automattic-sponsored team, and contributes to the WordPress project.

Matt’s Perspective on the Theme Landscape
Themes have been one of the means by which new users are brought into the fold of WordPress. In essence, you choose a theme, and an introduction to the WP ecosystem follows.

We are approaching a point where almost half the active themes aren’t hosted in this theme directory. As a point of comparison, plugins installed that are outside of the plugin directory constitute 15%. It is important to ask ourselves how we can evolve the theme directory process and the theme directory to be the most compelling place for people to source themes.

Big, robust themes take more time to review due to their complexity, even when the functionality they provide should be the work of a plugin. Code, and code standards, get out of date, and that’s the code we rely on.

If you imagine a post-commit review process, rather than a pre-commit review, where would be the best place to invest our time to further our goals of licensing, a11yAccessibility Accessibility (commonly shortened to a11y) refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both “direct access” (i.e. unassisted) and “indirect access” meaning compatibility with a person’s assistive technology (for example, computer screen readers). (, security, upgrade and switch themes? If we increase the breadth of themes in the repository by minimizing requirements, we can shift guidelines and depend upon users for reviews.

Theme Team Feedback
Historically, other repositories were successful because they allowed most themes to go live without substantial checks, and in WordPress, we put a high value on the experience of the user, which made our reviews more conservative around site health. Since we minimize upsell and advertising, there are few compelling business cases for people to add themes to the .org repository. Those upsell notifications can be the primary driver for a theme author’s profit, but from a user perspective, it is a deterrent.

One high-priority fix is making it possible for the team to have a functional meta environment for testing. The theme team members cannot work directly in the directory as they cannot recreate a meta environment, lack important data that’s tied up in the themes, and there is no script to build dummy data or otherwise anonymize it.

Next Steps
Participants agreed that for the theme review process to change, a shortlist of non-negotiable guardrails is required, and increased collaboration with the Meta team.

In addition, metrics to discern whether a new review process is effective are twofold: the usage of themes in the directory vs. not, and an increase in security reports. The goal is for the 47.1% of active themes outside of the theme repository to decrease considerably.

Meta is committed to providing any tools needed to implement a review process that increases the breadth of themes for a comprehensive repository that conveys confidence via ranks, e.g., badges or another demarkation.