slaughtering sandbox?

There are so many responses by bubel on the forums about how you absolutely can NOT use your own themes on wordpress.com that not only am I now convinced the theme marketplace has finally been shelved but I’m starting to think custom CSS must be on the way out as well😦 This user wanting multiple themes on the same blog, for example, could have been profitably directed to Sandbox, where anyone with a fair degree of CSS competency can achieve different looks for different types of pages. If it was a volunteer giving that answer, I’d just shrug my shoulders and assume they didn’t know what can be achieved with the CSS upgrade, but if it’s staff you have to assume that they have some other reason for not mentioning it.

This sucks, as I was seriously thinking of offering custom custom CSS skins for a small fee even though such services are officially discouraged. Ah well. I should really apply my efforts to learning Drupal instead.

17 Comments »

  1. Maybe he was answering all the theme quesions first. *shrug* I’m sure his “three weeks” will be up shortly and we won’t see him again in the forums.

  2. Scott said

    Which is really too bad. With at least 40 freely available skins for the Sandbox, these users could be informed that the Custom CSS upgrade buys them at least that many new themes. With a little elbow grease of course.

  3. Mark said

    You cannot use your own themes on wordpress.com – if it says anywhere that you can “use your own themes” here and we wrote it please direct me to it and I will change it.

  4. Mark said

    Dr Mike: “We are unable to add in our own themes here” in case you had forgotten.

  5. Oh come on. What proportion of wordpress.com users do you seriously believe are making the distinction between a ‘theme’ and a ‘skin’ in this context? Do you think they really care whether something is achieved through CSS or html, so long as it can be done? Furthermore, if I can implement a stylesheet in exactly the same way as a theme on my .org install, in what way is it not a theme?

    There’s more to support than answering the literal question. You know that. When someone asks a question about themes, they’re really saying ‘this is how I want my blog to look and behave’, not ‘I demand the ability to upload this specific type of file’. Most businesses would be trying to emphasise what can be done on their service with a paid upgrade, not pretend that it doesn’t exist. Of course it doesn’t help that Automattic insists you should only buy custom CSS if you yourself are an expert, or willing to become one. Copy/paste stylesheets? Hiring a designer? Lalalala, not options we’re interested in promoting. At some point the principle of not helping out the design community became more important than the bottom line of selling more upgrades. Sad, but not surprising.

    (You know, if custom CSS does disappear, I’m going to blame the penguins. They’ve perpetrated such terrible things upon Silver Is The New Black that it wouldn’t surprise me if you wanted to take the toys away from them.)

  6. I think it’s a bit disingenuous to suggest that a volunteer would be excused for misspeaking on one hand, and then call their position “officially disencouraging” a few sentences later.

    I highly doubt that automattic would discourage professional design endeavors, although the market size for people interested in custom design work on a site where they’ll never recoup their expenses, is probably pretty small. I’ve seen plenty of custom design work on other hosted platforms, but with the dirth of adsense ads on a WP.com blog, it’s hard to imagine someone even doing promotion here.

  7. The only sense in which Trent is a volunteer is that, as far as we know, he doesn’t get paid. His official status on the forums (moderator) is exactly the same as bubel’s, he applied for the job on one of the mailing lists and was parachuted in from the bbpress forums when they were looking to ease out drmike. He’s not going to say anything that Automattic would disapprove of.

    Yes, the demand for custom design work on wordpress.com would be tiny, but people pay for other upgrades; why not another one to make their blog unique? (And when I say a ‘small fee’, I mean small. I don’t think the market could bear professional rates, but then I’m not a professional. I’ll throw up a poll next time I get around to updating ntuat and call it market research.)

  8. Dave said

    Where a newbie like bubel is concerned, shouldn’t Hanlon’s razor be more generously applied? I usually find your paranoia to be fairly on-target, but this feels more like a molehill than a mountain. WordPress in general has been slow to embrace designers for reasons that probably have as much to do with geek culture as anything – which is not to deny the importance of specific choices by AutoCrattic. I dunno. I’m sure if I were a designer, I’d feel pretty pissed by now, too.

  9. Trent said

    “The only sense in which Trent is a volunteer is that, as far as we know, he doesn’t get paid”

    I have never been paid for my helping in the forums, so yes, I am a volunteer. It is really simple to find out who is staff in the forums though as the background for staff posts are a different color.

  10. “The only sense in which Trent is a volunteer is that, as far as we know, he doesn’t get paid”

    “The only sense in which water is wet is that, as far as we know, it is not dry.”

  11. Where a newbie like bubel is concerned, shouldn’t Hanlon’s razor be more generously applied?

    True, and of course this stuff is not so much his fault as that of whoever is failing to brief him properly. And it’s not even their fault, really — a decentralised, distributed, informal setup like Automattic’s isn’t capable of providing the closer supervision or guidance that a kid straight out of college is going to need. I remain unconvinced of the wisdom of letting new employees loose on the forums before they’ve learned how things work: it doesn’t seem kind to them, fair to the users, or good for Automattic’s reputation.

    Some people think slapping a cream-coloured background on staff’s forum posts without any other form of explanation constitutes full disclosure of their role. Personally I think the word ‘staff’ performs this function more effectively, but hey, that’s just me.

    Oh, and Trent’s the only ‘volunteer’ appointed by Automattic from outside wordpress.com to carry out the specific task of moderating the forums. I have no problem with that — it’s lucky they didn’t grab somebody from .org — but it does put him in a semi-official position which forum regulars don’t share, regardless of the fact that the job is an unpaid one.

  12. That cream colour background doesn’t show up in some browsers either. Many of the staff members have their accounts tagged with Moderator as well. Who’s to say that there’s a difference between what Trent says and what one of them says? (That’s not directed at you, Trent.) How many times did I and others repeat the mantras “We’re not staff” “We don’t have access” and “We don’t get paid for this so don’t throw your abuse at us” over there? Wasn’t too happy when we got accused of “playing staff” a few times. (Yet another problem with Lloyd. And how the hell did he get made into a wp.org moderator?)

    it’s lucky they didn’t grab somebody from .org

    Can’t speak for all of them but the few I did discuss matters with, they didn’t want it. Reasons were time, dealing with “those who can’t spell ftp” for lack of a better description, and the commercial aspect of wp.com when compared with wp.org.

  13. the commercial aspect of wp.com when compared with wp.org.

    I hadn’t thought of that; but yes, helping out a commercial enterprise with no thanks or remuneration isn’t going to give you the same warm fuzzy feeling as providing support for a free open-source project. And over on.org the developers aren’t even around enough to pull rank and bitch at you. (I feel all nostalgic about .org now; I will have to drop in and remind myself how hellish it actually is.)

  14. Trent said

    As for the “officialy discouraged” post you referenced, that was to stop brokering business through the forums. The CSS designs that yourself and others have created for Scott’s wicked Sandbox theme are amazing. I don’t know if anyone ever gives enough credit for the work that people both put into the themes and making them accessible for CSS upgrades.

  15. engtech said

    The CSS designs that yourself and others have created for Scott’s wicked Sandbox theme are amazing. I don’t know if anyone ever gives enough credit for the work that people both put into the themes and making them accessible for CSS upgrades.

    Well, they actually can’t give any credit with the CSS skins. There’s no way to include a link back like there is with the WP themes.

    CSS skins = smaller market with no link back.

    Might as well release your skin as a GPLed Sandbox copy with an additional credit link. You’d have a wider market and the chance of people who see the theme and like it can find a copy of it.

  16. Trent said

    Credit in general is what I meant. I have created ported themes for bbPress and other programs myself and realize it takes work to put them together. While there is no link back to the CSS theme itself, the fact it is on a blog post is the only credit you get in my experience.

  17. Beau Smith said

    Sandbox for Movable Type is now available!

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