A Review of Rather Random Aspects of Thesis 2.0

Recently, the much-anticipated, much hyped (by myself & others) Thesis 2.0 was released by DIYthemes. I waited a few days before installing it anywhere, and I read much positive feedback regarding the theme.

Finally giving in, I decided to install 2.0 on a new site which I’m putting together covertly. I’ve not put any work into the site itself yet, but I poked around 2.0 a fair bit, and I live-tweeted my thoughts as I did so.

Matt Gross, a DIYthemes developer with whom I was previously unacquainted, responded briefly to many of my concerns. Twitter being a disparate, disconnected mess of thoughts, I’ve decided to collect my thoughts here while expanding on them as needed.

First Off, Some Background

Several years ago, not long after Thesis was set loose upon the WordPress world, I purchased a license and dove headlong into the DIYthemes support board. Very soon afterward, I was established as one of the few go-to folks for Thesis support, the developer of the theme being notably absent from the support board. I spent countless hours on my own time solving problems, squashing bugs, optimizing customizations, and creating customizations (often in roundabout, nuanced ways to keep them in line with the DIYthemes’ philosophy of “don’t mod the theme) for anyone who asked.

Eventually, this caught the attention of DIYthemes’ developer, who offered me a paid position to continue providing support. Freaking sweet. So I did so, and eventually was able to contribute code to the Thesis product itself. Somewhere in all of this, I wrote my plugin, OpenHook, which became extraordinarily popular among the Thesis community.

My continued effort in providing support combined with the OpenHook plugin, which opened up customizing Thesis to a much wider audience, provided me with the vast majority of my Twitter followers, countless online acquaintances, new friends, and even numerous gifts sent to me from an online wish list to thank me for my efforts.

It wasn’t long after I gained code-writing privileges for Thesis that I parted ways from DIYthemes. I’m unsure of the exact circumstances, but remember becoming fed up with DIYthemes’ seemingly official policy of never making mention of my contributions publicly — the thousands of support threads answered (including numerous really great customizations and tutorials written therein), dozens of Thesis manual entries written, the community’s most popular Thesis add-on developed, and some really great code written for Thesis itself (such as the slick integration of semantic comment organization with WordPress’ comments class… which would later get DIYthemes into a bit of hot water with WordPress’ founder… Uh, my bad.)

Before I parted ways, I would have conversations with DIYthemes’ founder on a regular basis via online chat, and I remember him stating numerous times how much I would love 2.0, how much I’d rock it, and how much of a boon it would be for developers like me. I had high hopes for 2.0. Let’s see how it turned out.

Thesis 2.0, a Review

View these tweets on Twitter to see the full conversations between Matt Gross (@mattonomics) and me.

A First Impression

They say first impressions are the most important thing, and Thesis 2.0 disappointed. On WordPress’ theme selection screen, there is an option to preview each installed theme without actually activating it on the site.

So I have 2.0 installed on a site running WordPress 3.4.2 (the current version as of these events) hosted by the WordPress-savvy DreamHost. There were no other plugins or modifications installed on this WordPress installation, but when clicking the preview link on 2.0, I wasn’t greeted by the “new shiny” that I expected 2.0 to be. Instead, a blank screen popped up. Awesome.

Gross’ response to my first impression that the preview doesn’t work was simply “it does.” When explaining the situation and reaffirming that no, in fact, the preview doesn’t work, I received no response. From anyone.

A common theme among this review is going to be that Thesis — always, to an extent, but in 2.0 more than ever — isn’t programmed with WordPress in mind, but as a separate, self-contained product as much as possible. My experience a few years ago with DIYthemes is that if something in WordPress or a plugin doesn’t just work with Thesis, it isn’t Thesis’ fault, it’s the other products’ problems, even if those other products work well together flawlessly through using well-documented, publicly available coding practices and application interfaces.

And the theme preview depends upon a theme being able to work in order to display the, well, preview. Thesis, however, because it wasn’t developed with that bit of sense in mind, doesn’t work until after you activate it (thereby switching your site to a blank screen) and then press a magic “set up” button within Thesis’ own administration panel. Now you have Thesis running on your site, and of course now if you switch to another theme and use the preview link to check out Thesis, it’ll work just fine.

All of that to say, Thesis 2.0 provided a very poor first impression. But there is more.

Visual Disparity

After being forced into Thesis’ administration panel to complete the theme’s activation/setup process, I was greeted by a gaudy design element: the Thesis panel’s header.

Here a few screenshots for comparison:

A native settings panel header from WordPress 3.8.4

See how the header blends in with the overall style? Next up, we see how Thesis used to do things:

A settings panel header from Thesis 1.8.5

The design isn’t as tightly integrated, but it can at least be described as similar to the native style; Thesis 1.8.5 looks like it at least belongs there among the other WordPress panels. But then…

A set­tings panel header from Thesis 2.0

Sweet merciful barbecue, what happened? All pretense is gone of blending in with the WordPress aesthetic, creating a jarring experience — how long have we been conditioned to associate red boxes with errors, after all?

That said, Thesis is by no means the only product out there guilty of not blending in with the WordPress backend, with Automattic’s own Jetpack plugin being guilty as well.

Now, let me briefly explain why this is important.

I work with the public in a retail space, dealing with consumer electronics. I assist folks of all walks of life with technology questions, especially pertaining to cell phones. Combining my experience with them with my experience with Thesis users back when I frequented the support board, I have learned that users value and even rely upon consistency.

WordPress provides the pattern upon which add-ons (themes and plugins) should follow. The visual and usability consistency which this provides is a boon to users, especially those which are less tech-savvy.

The response Gross’ provided to my criticism was simply, “interesting. I don’t think so.” To that I say, Thesis shouldn’t be programmed for Matt Gross. It should be developed with the end users in mind and be as consistent with what they already know as possible.

Files vs. Data

Prior to downloading and installing 2.0, I read the following on DIYthemes.com:

But what makes Thesis 2.0 GREAT is that Thesis templates compile faster than regular WordPress templates because they’re all made from data.

(In normal WordPress, your template files are all “read” from your server, and that takes longer than compiling information from stored data.)

Imagine my surprise, then, when during Thesis’ activation process (the process which converts 2.0 from a “white screen of death” to an actual working theme), it displayed notices that it was creating all sorts of files and folders.

I fired up my FTP client and a few moments later noticed a new folder in my wp-content/ which contained numerous folders and files.

No explanation within Thesis itself is given regarding what these files are at all. In fact, given the marketing on the Thesis homepage, one would never expect there to be files there at all.

I pointed out this disparity on Twitter, and Gross’ reply was that the new file structure allowed customizations to be contained outside of the Thesis’ file structure, allowing easier updating. Wait, so Thesis does use files? I thought it was all data?

And again, where in Thesis are these files even pointed out? Why is there no interface for editing these files present within Thesis, if they are indeed meant for updating?

My OpenHook plugin, through the years, has proven that not only is it possible to provide theme file editing within the admin panel, but it’s possible to provide full code and markup customization directly from the admin panel, in a true “data only” way.

(Yes, I’m saying that my approach to Thesis customization via my OpenHook plugin lives up to Thesis’ own marketing more than Thesis itself does.)

Gross’ only other reply to my tweets on this topic was “[headdesk] look at what’s actually in the files.”

Looking in the files didn’t change anything except cause the realization that rather than Thesis 1.8.5′s accessing of one file for custom code, Thesis 2.0 accesses many, across numerous directories. If file system efficiency matters at all, Thesis 2.0 took a step backwards in regards to customization.

Also, I’d like to point out that Matt Gross is a developer for a company that is making millions, yet after just a few tweets from a long-time user raising legitimate concerns, he’s publicly expressing frustration (and soon thereafter simply stops responding to the conversations altogether). This breaks my heart because it is nowhere near the level of customer support I helped foster during my time at DIYthemes.

Lookit Me! The “Click to Edit” Button’s Cry for Attention

After having gotten 2.0 up and running, recovering from the shock of the admin panel’s distracting header, and debunked the “data only” myth, I decided to visit the front end of the site to see how 2.0 looks, but then OH MY GOD WHAT IS THAT?

This “Click to Edit” button is present on every page on the Thesis front end.

Okay, I get that DIYthemes wants to call out that within 2.0, you can modify the layout of any given type of page’s template. And that is pretty freaking awesome.

But does there need to be a huge freaking button with shaded padding on every page of the site? Just because I’m logged into my site doesn’t mean I don’t want to view my site’s design, unimpeded by a button which cannot be hidden unless I log out.

The worst part of that edit button’s location is that WordPress provides an elegant location for it, as well as the means to put it there: the admin bar, the admin bar which already contains links to edit content and so forth, making it the natural location for a template editing link.

Gross’ response is that users never noticed it up there. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. My theory is that adding something to the admin menu required using too much of WordPress’ open source code, so a proprietary alternative had to be devised, aesthetics and elegance be damned.

I pointed out that they could have simply educated users to the link’s presence in the admin menu via WordPress’ awesome “new feature” pointers, but I don’t think he replied to that.

Pop-up Windows? What Decade Is This?

I finally decided to dive into the meat & potatoes of the 2.0 update, which of course is the drag-and-drop layout builder. And I admit, this thing is cool, although to me it seems very much unfinished (more on that later).

What was instantly noticeable, though, was the big yellow notice at the top of Firefox stating that my site was attempting to open a pop-up window. What? Did 2.0 somehow transport me to the late 90s?

I came to find that the pop-up window the layout editor was attempting to open was mean to serve as a live preview of the changes I was making.

I’m not sure how other browsers work, but I’m pretty sure I’m using Firefox’s default settings here (correct me if I’m wrong). What this means is that Thesis 2.0 expects users to modify default browser settings in order to function properly: By default, the pop-up window is blocked. Allowing the pop-up, the window opens as a new tab, rather than a new window, requiring users to drag the tab out into a separate window manually.

If I’m right about all of that being default browser behavior, then I’m certain DIYthemes needs to expand its usability testing team.

Let’s assume, however, that the pop-up window opened as expected and that I now have two windows open. Using 2.0′s default settings, I size my browser windows to accommodate both the front end and the backend without any horizontal scroll bars.

See That Overlap? That’s Called “Bad Planning.”

When pointing out how unusual it was for pop-up windows to be a part of the Thesis 2.0 experience, Matt Gross responded that this setup was “the best way to accomplish what we wanted. everything [sic] else sucked.”

His mastery of professional language aside, does that screenshot really look like “the best” of anything? Having two windows is great, if default content can exist side by side with ample horizontal room to see everything, without introducing horizontal scroll bars. And on my 15″ MacBook Pro running 1440×900 resolution, the 2.0 solution is by far “the best.”

I suggested expanding or mimicking the WordPress live theme customizer (which is freaking slick, displaying the site on the right with options in an independently scrolling section on the left, all within the same window, all without needing to modify default browser behaviors), Gross replied that the WordPress system is “flawed. It doesn’t work the same. You’ve yet to discover the internals of 2.0.”

Why any user needs to know the “internals” of 2.0 is beyond me, nor does he state what is so flawed about the WordPress system. (Oh, I know, it’s open-source, which DIYthemes doesn’t want to touch lest they have to open source Thesis 2.0.)

Gross then stated that “on an 11in MacBook air it’s $ for me. I’ll screenshot later. On a 27in iMac it’s perfect.” I never did get that screenshot, and I’d very much like to see how he’s fitting those windows together on an eleven inch screen so well that it’s “$” for him. I certainly think a twenty-seven inch screen could accommodate both windows amply, but since when do we target web designs for such big screens, screens which are in the minority given the prevalence and growing popularity of laptops, netbooks, and tablets? (Does 2.0′s administration work on tablets/mobile browsers at all? Has anyone tested this?)

The Vanishing Menu

I next noticed that the Thesis admin menu only contained one item, increasing the work needed to get to the desired area of the admin. This is in contrast to how things were in Thesis 1.8.5. Here is a side-by-side comparison, with 2.0′s menu on the right:

Pointing this out, Gross replied that an improved menu would be coming in 2.0.1. Given how ridiculously easy creating a menu is, I’m amazed it went overlooked in 2.0. Usability is important, guys!

Plugin Compatibility

If you enjoy being able to activate plugins while expecting them to “just work” with your theme, that isn’t the experience you’re going to have with Thesis. Take Jetpack, for example. It’s an official WordPress plugin, developed by the team at Automattic, and it enjoys immense popularity, with around 8,000 downloads a day, peaking over 21,000 downloads when updates are released. One of its features is a one-click enhancement for the WordPress comments form which integrates social media login buttons, among other things. This feature didn’t work when running Thesis 1.8.5. It still doesn’t under 2.0. But it works fine in any number of “less advanced” themes. Why is that?

I once tried to talk DIYthemes into expanding plugin compatibility — and if they truly wanted to set themselves apart, they’d have at least one dev whose job it is to simply ensure Thesis works better with popular plugins than any other theme anywhere — but I didn’t get very far (this was back when I was on the DIYthemes payroll).

Matt Gross told me to “file this as a bug” on the Thesis forums. Last time I went there, I stayed just long enough to see the support staff giving users answers that amounted to glorified “can’t be done,” “I don’t know,” and “that’s too complex” answers. I cringed and left, never to return.

Help Text Usability Regression

In Thesis 1.8.5, theme features which contained inline help information were marked with “[+] more info” links; clicking these toggled the visibility of the help text, meaning that the text was displayed until intentionally dismissed. Users were free to continue filling out information or tweaking settings, all while the help text remained displayed. Useful!

In 2.0, the same features were denoted with a simpler “[+]” link. (Wait, when did the addition symbol come to denote help? Without the “more info” text present previously, seeing a “plus” button implies additional features or options, not help text, but I digress.) Clicking the link no longer opens persistent inline text; rather, a “fancy tooltip” pops up, obscuring the setting or feature for which I was attempting to get help. And rather than being persistent, the help text vanishes as soon as I move my mouse away from it. Not useful!

Gross’ response? “if you can suggest a better convention, please do. that has made the most sense in our testing.” (Testing? Really? …) I pointed out that the older version of Thesis had a superior convention, which he simply stated didn’t work for 2.0, with no explanation (seems to be a pattern).

And when I pointed out that WordPress already has a great contextual help feature, I was given the response by Gross “that, frankly, would not ever work for 2.0.”

Yet again, no explanation is provided, though it might come back to that aversion DIYthemes has of open source features. Why use existing features that work perfectly when you can reinvent a worse wheel while remaining proprietary, right?

The Header Editor

I like Thesis’ new “HTML Head Editor,” which lists each tag (title and assorted script, style, meta and link tags) as its own box, allowing drag-and-drop reordering of the tags, as well as one-click access to possible customization options for each tag. And if for some reason you wanted a site with no title tag, Thesis 2.0 makes that possible.

The Thesis 2.0 HTML Head Editor

But what if I wanted to add my own custom tags (perhaps a comment tag)? What if I needed to change the document type? There doesn’t seem to be any means of changing those things.

I would come to find out by visiting 2.0′s new “Boxes” page that it’s possible to upload “boxes” (and those are what? Why is there no explanation or help anywhere in this product for all of these new features? Anyone? No? … ), which would then appear either on the template editor or on the HTML head editor, if it’s intended to be used therein.

Matt Gross didn’t respond to either of those tweets.

Drop-down Menu Usability

Thesis 2.0′s admin panel introduces a six-item menu across the top as part of its bright red header (see above). Five out of six of these items are drop-down menus which expand when hovering over them. Two of those, however, drop-down to reveal that only one option. A drop-down menu is an implied list, and a list isn’t a list if it contains only one item.

Gross replied that more options are coming and that they just wanted people to get used to drop-down menus. Since when are poor usability practices “educational”? This seems to me a case of programmers overlooking that the drop-downs can be dynamic: If there is only one option, don’t be a drop-down; instead, be a link. If there are more than one options, be a drop-down.

Also, in a product which introduces several new design concepts to users, DIYthemes was concerned their users wouldn’t figure out drop-down menus, which are all but ubiquitous these days? Seriously?

Quick Quips

Internationalization

Thesis 2.0 doesn’t provide a POT file, which translators would be able to use to translate Thesis into other languages. Considering how professional a product Thesis 2 is, this is very bad.

The Ever-Present Welcome Screen

I don’t need to be welcomed to Thesis and have basic terms explained to me every time I fire it up. The welcome screen, like WordPress’ own welcome screen, should be dismissible. Matt Gross’ reply that “unfortunately, people need that info constantly” only serves to show that 2.0 is not designed with the common user in mind. Integrating Thesis more tightly into WordPress and using concepts and usability schemes that users area already familiar with would be a huge boon for Thesis support, to be sure.

Favatar / Bookmark Icon

Why is 2.0 displaying a color palette icon (the closest thing Thesis has to a logo, no less) as my site’s bookmark icon? And why is there no place to edit this within Thesis? Thanks, DIYthemes, for compromising the branding efforts of your users.

MISSING FEATURES

Just at a glance, here are features which were present in Thesis 1.8.5 but which are now absent in 2.0. Keep in mind that 2.0 took over two years to develop and release.

  • The ability to upload/change the site’s favicon
  • The ability to edit the custom code file directly from within the admin panel
  • The ability to import/export of Thesis options
  • The multimedia box, used for adding all sorts of content to the sidebar and which was endlessly flexible, seems completely gone
  • …so does the feature box
  • …and “features & teasers”
  • And more?

Closing Thoughts from Twitter

…and from Here

I think I’ll like Thesis 2.0. I do. Just not right now. A couple of years later, I still believe that DIYthemes would benefit tremendously from usability, compatibility, and internationalization programmers or teams of programmers. Users would notice an improvement almost immediately.

As it is, I just can’t look at 2.0 with the same affection as I did 1.8.5 and older. 2.0 can’t even decide on a consistent visual style for its own admin panels, with the “admin” panels and the “design” panels appearing entirely different (for no real reason), and neither of them blending in with the WordPress aesthetic. 1.8.5 and before seemed much easier to dive in with customizations, with 2.0 introducing new concepts such as boxes and packages, complete with absolutely no documentation of how to create them.

It’s almost as though Thesis 2.0 is designed in such a way as to ensure users will have to hire freelance programmers to customize their site or will have to purchase boxes and packages created by independent programmers and released to the DIYthemes community.

That isn’t entirely a bad thing, but it flies in the face of the fact that the entire Thesis product and community is riding the coattails of the free and open source WordPress project.

I can’t help but imagine how spectacular Thesis would be if it was fully integrated into WordPress, if it blended seamlessly into the rest of the blogging platform, creating a cohesive whole.

A theme that can do what Thesis 2.0 does (and what 1.8.5 did as well, before so many features were seemingly removed or hidden) while at the same time blending into WordPress? I would migrate to that in a heartbeat.

31 thoughts on “A Review of Rather Random Aspects of Thesis 2.0”

  1. Thanks Rick, for sharing your views. I’m still trying to make up my mind re 2.o. And will wait for the promised 2.0.1 update, which was originally scheduled to be released ten days ago. Without that update, the 2.0 version is pretty much flawed – with, however, an incredible potential.

    I guess the biggest stumbling block I see is the marketing of this version, the arrogance with which it was launched, as well as toward the deserved criticisms received.

    One note though on your review: the support forums are fantastic. Had it not been for that forum, most users would have been left completely in the dark, and they do take nearly every question seriously.

  2. For me, Thesis 2.0 feels like a huge leap backwards. Chris spent way too much time on trying to reinvent the wheel only to release an unfocused and unfinished product out into the wild. The end result feels like a purposefully obfuscated framework that is meant to alienate developers with ridiculous code and entrap users with new shinies that aren’t compliant with WordPress theme standards.

    Maybe I’m too harsh for having moved beyond the confusion that led me to Thesis in the first place (it was my first framework). I think that once the documentation gets released (and I’m with you–seriously, you couldn’t have done this at some point in all this development time?), it will be a great theme for users who don’t care about code and just want their theme to look pretty. I have never been particularly impressed with the insides of Thesis, but 2.0 has really made me think about why I continue to build sites with the framework. It was my first design community and I love the people who work with it, but I feel like the hoops that I have to jump through to design with it are no longer worth the “kudos” for beating it into shape for a challenging new project. Thesis 2.0 adds more hoops for the sake of “simplicity”.

    I was really looking forward to 2.0, but I feel like Chris is moving more and more away from the WP development community and into a uniquely “Thesis” experience. It’s nice in theory, but it’s creating a walled garden where many developers (and users) become entrapped in a very narrow framework.

  3. I admit to not knowing anything about customizations or writing code. I’m still very much an amateur. However, looking at the screenshots of what you pointed out, I agree with you. The bright red color they chose would absolutely make me think something was wrong, and I’d wind up wasting my time trying to figure out what it was. Also, the guy who was replying to you didn’t explain his answers nearly enough. Ok, it was on twitter; however, if he was truly interested in receiving feedback from someone who obviously knows what he’s talking about he could have simply asked for your email address for further discussions.

    I’d also like to say that this was very well written. I was especially impressed at the way you closed it out. I know writing isn’t exactly your cup of tea. You did good :)

  4. Aernout — You’re absolutely right when you say “arrogance.” DIYthemes and arrogance go together better than Bert & Ernie, sadly.

    I’m glad to hear the support forums are a helpful, respectful place. When I first went there, it was a ragtag bunch of users trying to keep up with each others’ help requests, with no sign of any “official” help. When I went there last, I saw official help telling users their problems weren’t solvable. I admit that’s been a long while back, but it made an impression.

    I should also point out that I doubt any other WordPress theme’s userbase is so dependent (or reliant… or whatever a more appropriate word may be) upon support, whether from a message board or otherwise. This is just further evidence that Thesis is designed not with users in mind. That’ll likely be the case until the DIYthemes founder moves on to other endeavors (leaving Thesis in more down-to-earth individuals’ hands) or has a born again experience with regard to how he views the theme’s users (all the users, not just the fantastic designers whom he associates with and so forth because they make Thesis look good).

    Alice — “Compliant with WordPress theme standards”? I’d be surprised if that ever occurs with Thesis; it would be an admission that the way WordPress is programmed is at least adequate, and from what I’ve seen from DIYthemes(’ founder), coding by other groups is always sub-par and ridiculous.

    “Just want their theme to look pretty.” Ironic considering Thesis 2.0 has one of the ugliest default styles around; I think DIYthemes forgot that a theme is much more than just some typography and whitespace. And while Thesis can certainly be styled to look incredibly beautiful, the common user isn’t going to be able to accomplish that. Good design requires a skill in, well, design. So while it takes a pro to get Thesis looking professional, Thesis’ styling system is targeted to… well… uh… I have no clue; it’s an ugly proprietary mess with no semblance of rhyme or reason. And the pros who can make Thesis look great? Honestly, all they’d need is to be able to quickly and easily modify actual style sheets (which is by far the most efficient way to facilitate designing as it relies upon very little code to accommodate).

    “It’s nice in theory, but it’s creating a walled garden where many developers (and users) become entrapped in a very narrow framework.” And that’s exactly how business works. The more they can keep people entwined in Thesis, the more likely Thesis will be promoted to others, resulting in increased sales, more users entwined, more advertising, and so forth. The (admittedly lucrative — I still enjoy it) referral program further ensures users are quickly numbed to the Thesis experience, looking past the major problems to the sweet referral payouts.

    Jessica — Thanks beautiful lady who I’ve obviously never met before and who would have no reason to be biased. ;) “I know writing isn’t exactly your cup of tea.” Is that your way of saying everything else I’ve written sucks? ;)

  5. I think the lack of documentation, or even a video tour before launching was a mistake and much of your frustration, and others’, would have been alleviated by that.

    I don’t really love the style of the backend (mainly the colours & the mega rounded corners) either.

    Don’t know why Matt said the live preview worked because the first thing Chris said when I first saw the theme was that the live preview doesn’t work… I think it’s a bit bum because some people do use it, I personally never use it.

    I’ve never used the popup thing. It never even came up for me (or maybe Safari’s popup blocking notification is so subtle that I didn’t notice). I have the site open in a new tab and just reload, like I do when developing any site. Maybe on my iMac I’ll use the popup and live changes stuff, but not on my laptop.

    The favicon can be changed. It’s a box in the Head editor.

    In part the multimedia box and feature box can just be replaced with a text box (which allows HTML as well). Rotating images will need a new box, which I’m sure someone will write soon (that is another thing that could have gone better before launch, more skins and boxes available). As far as replacing those things with text boxes goes, it’s probably more flexible because you can have multiple of them, or different versions of them.

    Editing custom.php from the dashboard would probably be handy, although I always despise editing PHP at all from the dashboard: too much room for killing everything.
    CSS can be added in the CSS editor.

    Backing up & restoring options is in the next version and it looks to be handled pretty well. Skin export is already available, but hidden with a filter (for some good reasons), again a documentation issue… how would anyone know about that?

  6. When I click the gear icon next to “Favicon,” I get a blank box accompanied by an “Options” link that does nothing.

    And yeah, things like the multimedia box can be replaced with boxes, but the multimedia box was a pretty complex feature — including per-post editing, for example — which worked more or less flawlessly. There was no reason for it to have been removed. The code was already written; they could have simply included it as a box.

    But instead, they silently removed it. Classy.

    Adding custom functions in the dashboard is safe (after all, they wouldn’t be loading custom functions for public display in the dashboard would they? surely not… ); you might hose your public site, but your dashboard would still work fine. I’m also pretty sure WordPress has a way of sandboxing plugin code to prevent activating plugins which cause fatal errors; Thesis could similarly sandbox code to prevent fatal code from being ran on the front side.

    Searching Google for how to create boxes for Thesis 2 is an exercise in futility — ironic futility at that: all of the results are on how to customize the multimedia box. Sigh…

    I’m not sure a full suite of documentation could really improve Thesis 2. Even Windows ME came with a manual…

  7. When I click the gear icon next to “Favicon,” I get a blank box accompanied by an “Options” link that does nothing.

    That seems like a browser bug, it’s totally fine in Safari and contains an image uploader. It’s potentially already fixed for the next update; there were a few Firefox bugs that have been fixed.

    The code was already written; they could have simply included it as a box.

    True for the MMbox, not so for the feature box, it didn’t do anything except make a hook for you.

    Adding custom functions in the dashboard is safe (after all, they wouldn’t be loading custom functions for public display in the dashboard would they? surely not… );

    Possibly for custom.php it could be safe, not for skin.php. And then users would be unable to use any dashboard related functions, like add_theme_support(), or add_image_size().

    I’m also pretty sure WordPress has a way of sandboxing plugin code to prevent activating plugins which cause fatal errors; Thesis could similarly sandbox code to prevent fatal code from being ran on the front side.

    I’ve heard this suggestion before, I think it’s a good idea. Although the WordPress theme editor doesn’t sandbox mistakes in functions.php, so maybe it only works before activation.

  8. I’m having a really hard time believing that a multi-million dollar enterprise that supposedly had people test this thing missed glaringly obvious bugs in a ridiculously popular, up-to-date browser.

    Right now, 1.8.5 is WinXP; 2.0 is ME (sans documentation); 2.0.1 better leapfrog Vista and shine like Win7; we certainly don’t need a ME.0.1. I realize I’m hoping for a lot here…

  9. Of course I’m not saying that everything else you’ve written sucks. And while I may be biased, that doesn’t mean I’m merely blowing smoke around. I was genuinely impressed with your writing on this.

  10. Awww, thanks!

    (Yes!)

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        /         /|   | |__/
       /_____/ __/ |   |-|
        /    ~~  ) |   |
    ((  ~------..)/    |
         |         |   |
         |         |   /
         \_________|__/__
          |              \
          \               |
           \__________    |
                |    /   /
                |   /   /
                |  /___/
               /   /_/..
               |  /     ~'-
               |  ----..   )
               |    |   ~~~
               |____|
                |__|
                /  '-----.
                |________/ -ABG
    
  11. You do write well. This is well written. Your points are well taken. Could you just change this one little thing? Change “hid” to “hidden” to show your mastery of the language.

    Please take this in the spirit in which it is given, politely, kindly and and respectfully.

    But does there need to be a huge freak­ing but­ton with shaded padding on every page of the site? Just because I’m logged into my site doesn’t mean I don’t want to view my site’s design, unim­peded by a but­ton which can­not be hid unless I log out.

  12. I saw your tweet about how discussing Thesis flaws with the core community can be frustrating, and I definitely have to agree.

    I also was one of those starry eyed developers who was drawn to Thesis as a newbie and become a total obsessed fangirl. I even still use the same selectors for my personal projects because I’ve used Thesis for so long! Now, I still make Thesis customization for clients because of the one reason you mentioned : it’s an extremely lucrative niche of users who generally have money to throw around (it’s a premium theme after all) and a great referral program. That’s pretty much it. I guess I can’t shake the Thesis ‘numbness’ either, because I keep serving up the propaganda.

    It’s so nice to see someone openly speaking out about some of these issues because it was surreal to see everyone defending 2.0′s release and I felt very lonely in my frustration. I have all the respect in the world for the awesome designers who work with Thesis, but I wish less people drank the kool-aid and realize what they are supporting!

    1. Alice: Well said! I’m curious, what sort of themes do you develop? Or what do you do in your personal projects? Feel free to shoot me an email if you’d like (rick.beckman at Gmail), if you’d rather not discuss your projects here.

  13. I am very disappointed with Thesis 2.0. Thesis was supposed to be something that takes the hassle out of creating website, making things easier to do so we can just get on and produce content. Thesis 2.0 takes a huge leap backwards. It’s far too complex and not intuitive. I think the designers have been trying to create something they want rather than listening to people using the theme and making things even better for them.

  14. Activated 2.01 this morning with a fresh install of WP (shout out to DreamHost!), then imported files that i understood would use the ‘classic’ skin –

    “When you activate Thesis 2.0.1, it will run a Skin called Thesis Classic that looks similar to the legacy Thesis 1.x default design.”

    Check it out: http://www.warnerblake.net/thesis/

    Thanks for the very informative post Rick,.
    w.

  15. Hi Rick,

    I appreciate this look at Thesis 2. I just uploaded the latest 2.0.1 and they’ve certainly ironed some things out, but it’s going to take me a while to get my head around it.

    A bit like Thesis 1. For me, it was a complete change of approach at the time. I found it quite frustrating on many occasions. Some things seemed simpler to jump into theme files and make changes. However, I eventually got my head around it.

    I hate the idea of getting my head around Thesis 2. Even though I want to.

    It also makes me think that if CP has another ‘brain wave’ as to how we should build our sites, then Thesis 3 will come out to confound us all once again.

  16. You hit the nail on its head with that last paragraph, Armen. The biggest difference between DIYthemes & every other theme foundry worth anything (including WordPress/Automattic, for that matter) is that it seems as though (and this comes from nearly two years of working directly with CP as an employee of DIYthemes) DIYthemes’ approach is “what CP says is gospel.” Other foundries, of course, spend countless hours and even money on user testing, trials, and so forth.

    That’s WHY I (and others) make a big deal about blending into the WordPress dashboard, using their styles, their usability cues, their behaviors, etc. They have a giagantic userbase, tons of contributors, and tons of brilliance being poured into the project to ensure that users have the absolute best experience. By taking advantage of WordPress’ built in protocols and styles, plugins & themes can ensure that their admin panels are always up-to-date with the latest usability improvements, without the plugin or theme foundry needing to perform all of the research independently.

    And if DIYthemes ever does start actually listening to users and doing real tests and trials, then, well, we’ll just be paying them to do so, when they could just as easily be using the absolutely FREE WordPress interface tools.

    Relevant video: Anthony Montalbano on “Your WordPress Admin Pages Suck

  17. I bought into Thesis a few years ago (1.2 maybe?) for a couple sites I was developing. Personal sites for maybe…someday businesses. I bought into it because of the promises of the ability to create a custom site that didn’t look like a standard blog site and had customization/SEO/… out the wazoo. Well, I was disappointed but figured it was my lack of PHP/CSS ability that hampered things.

    I was thrilled with the idea of 2.0 and had none of the problems other uses had upgrading. And I think 2.0 has great potential. The problem is that so much of what was promised is missing (even now, a month after release). No extra skins, no boxes, no packages. And no response from CP or the core team about what to expect. No presence on the forums, which have been managed greatly by Godhammer, Girly, others who have done an AMAZING job of offering what support they can. But nothing from CP except attitude.

    I bought into the developer’s version so I’ve sunk $$$$ into Thesis. I want to believe it’ll be great but I can’t wait forever. I need to get my new site up for my business NOW. While 2.01 fixes a few issues, it is still severely lacking in support (I get attitude from some on the forum when I ask a newbie question), and functionality.

    So my question, ultimately, is what are my options? What other theme offers me the ability to create a simple design with some plugins to collect emails, look cool, etc. without being a PHP programmer? I hate the idea but am prepared by buy into something else. What other theme would you recommend for disenfranchised Thesis owners?

  18. Well Rick, after playing with T2 for a little while, I went back to 1.8.5 to create a new design for my wife’s site.

    Maybe I’ll convert over at some stage, but I don’t have time to waste on trial and error while I figure out what I’m trying to do. 1.8.5 does what I need it to, for the most part.

  19. I’ve been immersing myself in Thesis 2 for the last two days trying to get my head around it. It’s certainly got some exciting things that I’m looking forward to trying out, I just wish that there was a clear, well-documented way of doing things the old way for those who are comfortable in the code. It seems like in its effort to make it more accessible to non-designer, blog owners, they’ve alienated those very same people, plus the designers who will be forced to learn a totally new, non-intuitive, and overly-hooped interface.

    The skin editor is really just teaching basic html design, just with fancy boxes instead of plain text and div tags. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think they’re wildly over-estimating the learning curve of the average (non-technical) blog owner. It seems like if they can grasp the skin editor, they could handle, html. So what they’ve really done is make it 10x more complicated for me as the designer to make changes and update a site. Where before I worked primarily in the custom.css file and a little in the custom-functions.php (or in your wonderful plugin) Now I have to navigate an arbitrary landscape of smaller and smaller boxes in which to place my one piece of custom css, where before it was all organized in one single sheet, divided into sections that I saw fit to create.

    What I would like to see at some point is a conversion or translation of, say, a representative top 10 Thesis tutorials from version 1.8 to version 2. Ranging from things that may actually be simpler, to things which are definitely not.

  20. I feel pretty burned by Thesis 2′s marketing spiel. I think that the CSS editor is a bizzare dog’s dinner: my coding is merely OK, and I’ve given up trying to use the skin CSS editing tab with its annoying packages, I do everything in custom CSS. The html editor is fine, but the usability is a bit poor.
    I got Thesis 2 when it came out and, at first, I was optimistic that updates would improve things. However, everything on the update front has gone quiet since December 2012. At this point, I regret buying the developer’s licence.

  21. I think the problem is that DIYThemes/Thesis trying to be more like Apple, in their approach, changing the website plus website marketing of the homepage, everything more minimilistic, scheduled graded releases/feature lagging later… people, no friendeless arrogant style, this be revolutionary marketing.
    The problem however is that they are no longer better than their competition, and have a lot strong competition, It is no longer a friendly resource, and people are giving now to the competition, or despairing.

    1. Ken, I think you’re assessment is pretty accurate, although I’ve found Apple to be very friendly, approachable and helpful ;-)

      I think one of the main problems with Thesis 2 is that it is trying so hard to go against the ecosystem that it might as well not be a WordPress theme… As plugins like BuddyPress progress to be easier to use with any theme this might become less of an issue, but the more time I spend absorbed in the WordPress community the more I appreciate the different themes you can get and the variety of plugins that are out there. Yes, some are pretty crap, but some are great. I thought Thesis 1.8.5 was a really good direction for WordPress themes. Some nice flexibility in the design options, with a massive amount of power in CSS and hooks, plus multisite and child theme support. Thesis 2 feels like it pushes away from all of that, which is very unWordPressy, and not a little disappointing.

  22. Incidentally, Thesis 1.8.5 is partly/mostly open source code… It could always be forked into something which continually amazes, although with the styles, images, and JavaScripts still being locked into DIYthemes’ proprietary license, doing so would require pretty much replacing all of those default components.

  23. Great review here and really useful information. I have been having trouble actually accessing the drop-down menus in the HTML Head Editor.

    I hover over a box and I get a bit of text stating: “show/hide box options” when I hover over the gear icon. But “clicking” the icon does nothing. So I can’t update any of the boxes.

    This happens on both my macbook pro and pc. Everything seems to work perfect when using my Surface tablet however. Any ideas what the cause might be?

    Thanks again for the information.

    Jeff

  24. I just updated from 1.8 to the newest version of thesis and after a few hours of looking around I can say that this is not user friendly for those of us who are not html / css literate. I really liked the old user interface because most of the edits I wanted to make could be found with the click of a mouse, and if I wanted to make any major edits a lot of tutorials online would have a piece of code I could copy and paste. With thesis 2.0 there doesn’t seem to be any of that and I’m constantly getting stuck.

    Something as simple as trying to turn my homepage posts into teasers instead of full length displays is my latest trek and it’s taken me quite some time. I consider myself pretty computer literate, but this is definitely geared more towards coders than the average guy.

    I recommended thesis 1.8 to others before because it was so easy to use, but the upgraded version I’m not really keen on recommending anymore.

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