WordPress.org requires Customizer for theme options. Hell breaks loose

(Leland Fiegel) #1

So, I came across this WP Tavern article the other day. Didn’t read past the headline. My first thought, “hmm, sounds good to me, probably for the best.”

Then a tweet from @justintadlock led me to the over 100 comments, many of which are overwhelmingly negative in response.

Here are some of the negatives of requiring Customizer for theme options summed up:

  1. It will stifle innovation.

  2. The Customizer can be slow if there are a lot of options.

Okay, to that I say:

  1. This isn’t stopping any innovation. The Customizer is pretty flexible, and if you really need an options page, you can host a theme-specific options plugin for your theme in the repo, or hey, maybe even a premium upsell!

  2. I’ve built and used many themes with Customizer before. Never noticed any slowness. But that may be because I don’t make or use themes that have such a high number of options that would cause that sort of effect.

Not to mention people can do whatever they want outside of WordPress.org. Although even then, some people are concerned that since WordPress.org guidelines are so influential, other marketplaces might follow their lead and require options to be stored in Customizer as well. I just don’t see that happening any time soon.

I’m of the opinion that if your theme is so complicated, it needs a complex options pages that won’t otherwise “fit” in the Customizer, it probably shouldn’t be part of the theme.

Overall, I definitely see this as a good thing that will provide a more consistent user experience across themes, and I’m a bit surprised by all the push back. What are your thoughts?


As user who play with themes (no developing) I really welcomed this. I really enjoy do things if everything have own place, that is why I choose WordPress too.

While search in WP theme directory I found, that huge part of themes there are somehow low quality or many of them just offer “upgrade” button and are junk for marketing. These themes don’t offer something special compared to others, just one upgrade button and extra javascripts.
Bc. this junk, its hard to find quality, fully functional themes there. I don’t like to install 100 themes bc. one will be ok.

I think any rule and requirements which will brings more quality and more “wp way” to themes there will help WP at all. Currently I think there is quantity over quality.
Just one cool example how powerful theme can implement everything in Customizer is theme Make, while it offers also extra plugin for extend some things there. This way I prefer.

With thousands of themes and plugins on .org I think its time to apply some more strict requirements. Sometimes its really pain to to find something good there.

(CJ Andrew) #3

Nicely put, @leland.

When I saw @pollyplummer’s post on WPTavern, the thought crossed my mind that this could go either way, and this is speaking from a “site builder’s” perspective, strictly; not a “developer’s” one.

On the one hand, I think this is actually an innovative move. I’ve seen it coming (from following the Theme Review Team’s recent discussions), so I wasn’t too surprised. However, the TRT (Theme Review Team) is very agile, so the changes happened faster than I expected (a good thing) :smile:

Requiring the customizer for Org Repo Themes (ORT) will improve standardization within the repo itself. Other theme shops can do what they want, but for ORT, standardization is a good move.

On the other hand, there’s always the risk of abuse: e.g. theme authors stuffing the Customizer, with too many options, usability issues does to options organization within the customizer, improper Customizer API implementations, etc. These are not a huge risk for the ORT, because they will get reviewed (and standards enforced) by the TRT.

Again, external authors (Envato authors, etc), can do what they please (to an extent). The downside of this is a negative perception of the Customizer as a theme options alternative. This is already the case with some Envato marketplace themes, so the arguments against the Customizer are valid (to an extent).

In my opinion, the thing to bear in mind (for site builders/site owners/webmasters), is that ORT (Org Repo Themes) are reviewed to ensure that they meet standards. This means that the problems usually encountered with some Envato marketplace themes will not appear here, and do not apply to ORT.

Also, I feel that requiring the Customizer offers 3 additional positive benefits:

  1. Encourages theme authors to think carefully about the options that they provide users, and how they make use of the Customizer API (to improve their theme performance and usability).

  2. Provides a standardized security surface for themes that use the Customizer, instead of widely varying options pages, with different security vulnerabilities.

  3. Makes it easier to review themes that use options, because a standard is being used, and hopefully adhered to. This will also indirectly improve ORT volume (number of themes in the repo), and quality (strict adherence to standards).

The real benefits of this comes to site builders and site owners, who don’t have to spend hours learning a new theme options page, every time they change or install a theme.

Regardless of the negative comments, I think this is actually a step in the right direction.

(Grant Palin) #4

I agree that too many themes developers reinvent the wheel with their “custom and powerful” theme frameworks, to the point that trying out a new theme brings up a different options panel to figure out, some with a ridiculous number of options. It would have been much better to use something like Options Framework to establish common ground. But here we are with a directive from the TRT. To many it may seem heavy-handed, but it will help to raise the bar for repo theme quality. That’s a good thing.

(Benjamin Intal) #5

I’ve long been using the Customizer in themes and I think using the Customizer is really the way to go.

That coupled with the new theme switcher capability of the Customizer makes this requirement a good thing.

I don’t think it will hinder innovation. I mean, current implementation of theme settings inside admin pages are simply getters and setters of text/select/color options… there’s nothing innovative about that. At most the innovation would be around the design of the admin page, and in my opinion that is an unnecessary innovation.

(Jay Syder) #6

I like the idea of using the customizer and hope with this big push that even more ideas for making the customizer better are voiced and built.

Also like grantpalin I agree with the below statement as well.

One thing I do wonder though, without actually knowing much about the WP REST API. From what I have seen it can be used for totally changing how WordPress dashboard back-end looks and works. Does that mean with that WP REST API you could even change how the customizer looks and works a lot which may suit more complicated themes?

Again don’t know a lot about how much you could actually change with the WP REST API but if this is possible then maybe something that should be mentioned to people with those more complicated themes especially considering this WP REST API is meant to be added to core this year which would line up with the 6 months existing themes have to prepare.

(Leland Fiegel) #7

I believe you’re able to change how the Customizer looks and works now, even without the REST API. I’ve never done it before, so not sure how involved it would be. Also, not sure how a substantially different looking Customizer would fly with the TRT, even if it is technically still using Customizer.

I’m definitely looking forward to see some awesome theme stuff to come out of the REST API, but keep in mind we’re just talking about theme options here. I’m sure there are a lot of REST API innovations we’ll see in themes that rely on decisions and not options.

(Jay Syder) #8

Yeah wondering if TRT will accept is what this is about I mean I was thinking maybe using rest api they could modify it more but still have TRT pass it. Or maybe I am thinking wrong but yeah guess rest api is just on my mind looking forward to new themes and plugins using it in different ways.

(Justin Tadlock) #9

The TRT knew there’d be pushback. We’ve been getting it for 3 years now. Of course, it blew a bit out of control on WP Tavern. Many of the arguments had little to nothing to do with the guideline change. There was a bit of mud slung at a few on the team.

Amidst all that, there were some valid arguments. Three years ago, I even pushed against this being a requirement using those same arguments, particularly the argument about innovation. I was proven wrong over and over and over and over as thousands of themes came through the submission process. Suffice it to say, my mind was changed because the TRT allowed the very thing that this vocal group of people are asking for now.

The TRT recognized we needed this particular guideline to change. The only thing I (and others) wish we would’ve done different is made this guideline change a long while back.

Most of the negative reaction was localized to that one site and the Make blog. The majority ofpeople on Post Status, ThemeForest (yes, ThemeForest), and other sites had positive reactions. And, if my retweets and favorites are any indication on Twitter, I’d count that as pretty positive.

Despite whether we had a positive or negative reaction, good developers are going to move forward and start making awesome stuff. The customizer will become better as more people use it and build on top of it.

The WP API is going to open up a whole new slew of possibilities. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it just like we do with any new WordPress features. We’ll undoubtedly create new guidelines regarding it as it becomes more commonplace.

We haven’t even really seen much with the WP API yet, so discussion on how this will fit into our current guidelines is a little premature.

As far as I’m concerned, customizing the customizer is OK. The customizer has it’s own enqueue hook (customize_controls_enqueue_scripts), so you could hook directly in with custom CSS or JS and change things around. You can even make it wider (kind of defeats that whole “customizer is too small” argument).

The TRT doesn’t necessarily have any restrictions on this. However, we’ll end up putting some up if we see people abusing the system (e.g., using the customizer as nothing but a promotional tool for your business).

(Mario Peshev) #10

Justin, I have been following your replies on the mailing list (which was killed thanks to a premium closed product) and your work around the community (frameworks, WP Pro book and so on) and it’s actually interesting to see you “on the other side” this time. Because I do remember some of those arguments that you supported openly regarding some hard requirements and other limitations that prevent thousands of clients from submitting their work to the community.

Back to the question in hand - I don’t support the Customizer limitation for various reasons.

1 - It is a good fit for a limited number of themes. But so are theme options panels, widget-driven landing pages, visual builders AND front end editors. In fact, given the Front-End Editor project being a “feature as a plugin” until recently it seems quite challenging for businesses to plan their theme business.

If I’m a theme business and I see that the Front-end Editor is to be merged in Core in the next 6-7 months, I won’t do anything else in that area and wait for this to happen - in order not to do repetitive work or one that conflicts with the core plans. As a matter of fact I did participate in several theme company discussions and planning meetings where business owners hesitated and planned accordingly. That was pushed back, and now suddenly Customizer is on the rise.

2 - It does limit the innovations and flexibility. Yes, I said that. Standardization is a good thing in general. But last time I checked WordPress was proud to be “Open Source” with all of its freedoms. And when 75% or so of the themes have to be updated (and some companies own 10+ themes) that is twisting hands. That doesn’t necessarily support user experience too - redirecting to a “theme options” page that is properly styled, documented, with a branded header or whatever may provide WAY better user experience than a dumb panel on the left. Or a theme using a front-end editor, or anything else.

3 - It is yet another restriction. Before Justin and Emil form ThemeReview.co, I did 30+ business theme reviews for WordPress.org. All of my customers were incredibly annoyed with the delays, length of the queue or some grumpy reviewers willing to close a ticket for a minor spacing issue or so. Seems a bit like gambling - you’re waiting for months and hoping to eventually get in - and start giving away a product for free. Way to go.

What I’m curious is - how many reputable theme authors on WordPress.org and businesses releasing WordPress.org themes were contacted with regards to the change? Was there any “board” discussing how is this change going to affect the community and the existing businesses?

I know from a fact (and direct feedback) that Themekraft’s experience is not an isolated case. Unregulated restrictions like this one may very well hurt businesses or close entire shops. If anyone thinks that I’m over-exaggerating, then you haven’t run a business with people dependent on someone’s regulations, reviews and decisions. WordPress.com closing the theme submissions is one thing - since it’s Automattic and they can decide for themselves. But the WordPress.org redesign hiding the Commercial Themes affected the traffic for several listed theme companies.

A small change like that can hurt hundreds of people working in these companies, and other connected service providers.

Sometimes “users don’t know better” and we have to decide what’s the best way forward. But I don’t believe that we’re in a sandbox or playing Monopoly with fake money so that random changes affect no one in practice.

P.S. Making decisions without consulting large businesses, conducting UX reviews and so on becomes a common problem in WordPress.


If you were really serious about submitting/upselling themes on .org, you would’ve checked slack more often. Everyone can participate in meetings and express an opinion. I was there when the decision was taken and almost all developers approved the change.

Did you know that the number of users on slack grew with like > 100 in just a week. All those users registered just to say they don’t agree after the fact.

The meeting date and agenda was published on make blog, irc and chat.

That’s life!


What I’m curious is - how many reputable theme authors on WordPress.org and businesses releasing WordPress.org themes were contacted with regards to the change?

What makes these authors reputable? The number of downloads on WordPress.org? The number of sales they make through their shops? The number of themes they have on WordPress.org? Their visibility in the community?

You can only get a reputation by being actively involved in the platform on which you base your business.

If you review themes, attend the meetings, read and comment (with constructive feedback) on the Make/Themes blog,… you will be accepted as a member of the community. And if your arguments make sense, people will follow you.

Now of course this means that you have to invest a lot of time into being a part of the WPTRT. But if the WordPress.org repository is so vital to the survival of your business, why wouldn’t you invest this time?

Was there any “board” discussing how is this change going to affect the community and the existing businesses?

This guideline change was discussed during a meeting in a public chat room. These chats happen the same time every week, they are announced on a public blog, with an agenda.

How much more transparency do you want?

A common complain about the WPTRT in the past has been the “back room talk” or the suggestion that there is some kind of evil agenda. The WPTRT has undergone a lot of changes in the last couple of months, and transparency has been a big effort.

Suggesting to have “boards”, with seats that are assigned to “reputed” developers makes no sense. The last thing a community driven project should do is restrict participation, and listen to the commercial interests of a small but vocal minority.

Unregulated restrictions like this one may very well hurt businesses or close entire shops. If anyone thinks that I’m over-exaggerating, then you haven’t run a business with people dependent on someone’s regulations, reviews and decisions.

Whose decision was it to base your business on a platform you don’t control?

As far as I know, WordPress.org never lured anybody into submitting themes by promising financial gains from doing so. If you make money from your themes, that is great. But that’s not what the WordPress.org theme repository is about.

Of course I can sympathize with how frustrating it can be having to deal with a platform you don’t control. But if you don’t want to have to deal with this, then don’t do it. Go out on your own, like countless other shops do, and you are free to do whatever you want.

Because if the WordPress.org repository is such a horrible place to be, why do these businesses continue to submit themes?

I think the answer is simple. Their business model is based on having a free theme, which contains up sell messages. These messages then lead users to the shop of the business, where they can buy the commercial version of the theme.

So in essence, these businesses use WordPress.org to drive traffic to their shops. They could obtain this traffic through other means, blogging, social media, sponsoring, paid ads,… But I guess that having a theme in the repository is less work and results in more benefits? Not really sure.

Also I hear a lot of threats of quitting WordPress.org. What alternatives are there? ThemeForest for sure.

The only problem is that the themes on ThemeForest have a much, much higher design quality. That’s something you really can’t blame on any guidelines.

Additionally, I think that a lot of people would be hard pressed to develop the kind of features that ThemeForest themes offer. Because creating a page builder is not easy. And creating a good one is really, really difficult.

So instead, people choose to stay and whine and complain. Which is fine, as long as you don’t attack any people, or put conspiracy theories into the world of how Automattic wants to screw you out of the couple grand you make a month selling themes.

Because some of the complaints are ridiculous. You can’t really tell everyone that doesn’t want to hear about it how you made a gazillion dollars with your themes, how you brought literally billions of new users to WordPress, while at the same time whining that your business is getting destroyed by the WPTRT, Automattic, the forces of evil and the world in general.

Because the reality is that no matter where you sell, and what you sell, the theme market has evolved. It is no longer sufficient to cobble together a half way decent theme and sell it. Those times are over.

Theme shops today need to put the premium back into premium themes. That means focussing on the needs of a precise niche, with excellent design, excellent code, great performance, lots of clearly written documentation, video walkthroughs, and customization tutorials. You need to offer 24/7 support, themes readily translated into different languages by professional translators, compatibility with popular plugins,…

With ThemeForest having announced plans a while ago to offer support tokens, and other theme shops making paid support a big part of their revenue, simply selling is not enough. Your product has to be compelling enough for users to keep using it for a long while. Because that’s where the money is in those cases: users that pay for updates and support, without costing you much in terms of both.

There isn’t a magical recipe for making money with themes, no less then there is with plugins. Yet in both markets, there are companies that flourish, even without the WordPress.org repository.

In the end as a business you got to be flexible, try different things and see where they lead. If people would invest their time into that instead of venting in comments, there businesses would be much better off.

(Nate Wright) #13

I’m just going to drop this in here. I left a comment on Post Status in response to the article on this decision. The comment discusses a bit the broader shifts that I think are underway in the WordPress space. A response there from @justintadlock includes a helpful clarification on the distinction between layout managers and theme options.

(Mario Peshev) #14

@acosmin, @fklein - given the passive-aggressive responses and the fact that I disagree with 90% of your points, I don’t think that it’s productive to continue expressing some experience outside of the WordPress bubble where I used to live in until a few years ago. In fact, I used to express the same opinion back then, especially as the technical partner in a theme building startup.

Things are way different now and my reality is much broader than it was back then, so I’ll just leave it as-is. There’s just one comment I have to mention here:

That’s funny, since the number of themes on WordPress.org is probably about 10% of the global network of free WordPress themes - and I have several large clients myself who submitted a theme or two and said “screw it” and did not submit their entire repository of 50+ unique themes each due to the process.

Since you’re happy with your own point of view - that’s fine, but I’m quite happy that I quit the theming business few years ago and focused on things in the same industry that are not being decided by just a few people. And btw, the #theme-review channel existed for years in IRC and I spent about 2 years there when the average number of active people was less than 10. That said, I haven’t seen you there either, so let’s leave the rage and hatred out of that.

(Justin Tadlock) #15

Sorry if I’m a bit blunt. It’s late and I’m tired, so I’m doing this quickly.

I’ve definitely been on the other side. Of course, my mind was changed. As I said above, “I was proven wrong over and over and over and over as thousands of themes came through the submission process.”

Those 1% of good and awesome things don’t change the fact that the other 99% of stuff coming through the submission process is crap. Those are made up numbers, but I want to be straight to the point. And, I hate to sound so harsh about it, but it’s simply the truth of the matter.

Again, as we’ve said over and over: Show us something innovative and make your case when you build something that doesn’t fit into the guidelines. Don’t just say, “Wait, what if I build this or that?” Build it.

I’m just going to stop you right there. Theme “businesses” are irrelevant to the conversation. TRT has always maintained that any theme you submit through the repo is quite simply out of the goodness of your heart. That’s what it’s all about.

I’m just going to kind of ignore all the business talk. Many of us have had to change things to fit into the guidelines. Yes, even I have. I’ve had to drop things that I built that I absolutely loved.

Anyway, I’m more than willing to discuss the guideline change. I’m not going to discuss theme businesses, just like I’m not going to discuss my own theme business in this context.

You know that the team members are big open-source supporters (otherwise, we wouldn’t do what we do). This isn’t about freedoms. This is a matter of WordPress.org theme repository policy. We don’t let spam or porn through either. :slight_smile:

If you think there’s going to be some poor user experience with any of your themes, get in touch with me or the team. I’m sure many of us will help in any way we can. Ask us specific questions. Show us specific code. Specifics matter.

Yep, it’s another restriction. With standardized code, it should actually help to speed up reviews. I’ve been on the team for several years. The number one holdup in reviews? Theme options. The number one reason admins reopen tickets? Theme options.

Also, if you see a reviewer closing a ticket over a minor spacing issue, ping me (@greenshady). I’ll set things straight.

Zero. Theme authors need to be involved with TRT if they want their voice heard. Attend meetings, perform reviews, help out with questions on Slack, comment on the Make blog, etc. They should bring their experience to the table.

The first time I complained about a theme guideline, you know what Matt Mullenweg told me? He told me to get involved. Basically, quit whining and walk a mile in the TRT’s shoes. OK. So, he said it in a much nicer way than that. :slight_smile: (This was way back when TRT was just formed.)

(Mario Peshev) #16

Thanks for the reply Justin. Like I said, I appreciate all of the work that you put back in WordPress.

I cannot agree that ignoring business talk is sound advice. That’s an incredibly long discussion, but a good example is the Christmas house campaign (that I happily supported) which should not have existed at all if contributors have been rewarded properly in a business-friendly open source community.

As Boone said - “Be a Volunteer, not a Martyr”, which was an incredible talk that I enjoyed last year at WCSF.

I don’t have personal problems anymore since I have done 150 reviews myself over the past 4 years, and I’ve led the theme review group at several WordCamps as well, involving dozens of new reviewers and speeding up the review process.

The Core team has been working hard for improving and simplifying the process for new contributors since people don’t get their tickets or patches reviewed, and some tickets are just left hanging for years. I had several submitted patches for a year and a half, and got 3 of them in when I attended WCSF and met the right people who could review them.

That sort of “closeness” or “first-time experience” is an absolutely valid reason for most people to stop trying. If they spend time for free for something that’s not even appreciated, what’s the point? Things are much, much better over the past 2 years with bug scrubs and triages, the Open Call for Tickets that Aaron submitted for 4.3 and working closely with people.

That’s how I see the theme submissions too - and adding even more restrictions together with the queue of 202 open tickets as we speak, that’s one of the things that I don’t see as a welcoming process. There’s more to that, but it’s based on my experience with companies who would like to polish their themes and submit them to the wide public, beginner contributors at WordCamps and my regular students attending WordPress courses or seminars here.

Anyway, as I mentioned in the previous reply - there seems to be a huge gap between the way you see things now and what I see here now as well. And I used to support your opinion four years ago, which is no longer the case, so we’ll have to leave it this way.

(Justin Tadlock) #17

Come on, man. That’s a bit out of line and way off topic.

I’m more than willing to have a serious conversation about the guideline change (and specifically the guideline change), but if we’re going down this route, there’s little point in me continuing.

I’m also more than willing to talk about all the other stuff you’ve mentioned at some other point. I believe there’s a lot there worth discussing. However, this is a topic specifically about the theme settings guideline change. That’s what I’m here to talk about.

(Mario Peshev) #18

I tried to make a point, even if it sounds harsher in plain text than what I meant - apologize if that’s the case.

Other than that I’m talking business every week, at least 3-4 times with community members, since it’s also essential for my business, what other businesses and users need. So happy to put an end to that and open another discussion focused on business needs and how are they related to the WordPress ecosystem.

Sounds better?

(Ihor Vorotnov) #19

Personally I welcome this restriction from TRT. I’m a big fan of “decisions not options” and “move all non-visual stuff to plugin” approaches and I totally support the aim to standardize the theme settings and remove all the crap theme option pages tend to offer.

Also, totally agree with “if you care - stay involved” and “WP.org TRT should NOT care about businesses and premium up-sells”.

One idea I would like to see in ALL freemium themes on WP.org is a standard option for up-sells. Just a few inputs / checkboxes, like “A Theme has premium version”, “Premium version URL”, “Premium version features”. Then, in the Customizer a user will see a standard output, same for all themes. That is perfect user experience. An additional filter “With/without premium version” in theme search would be nice as well.