Archive for design

cutthroat

You thought all was forgiven now Chris Pearson finally got bullied into split-licensing Thesis? No, of course you didn’t. So here you go, more grudgewank:

Cutline was sold a few years ago and had a more restrictive license placed on it. The original author of the Cutline theme has gone on to produce other themes with more restrictive licenses. Using Cutline has been seen as a promotion of that work and that’s not something we want to do–so, we made something better: Coraline!

So yeah, by the sounds of it they’ve tarted up Cutline with some code from the new default, changed a couple of letters in the name and are calling it a new theme.

Stay classy, guys.

I’m not really sure why they chose the theme in the first place if it’s such ‘junk’, and I fail to see why existing users have to be screwed around. If you hate it so much, couldn’t you just deprecate it by making it unselectable as a new theme? Come to that, why do we still have three versions of Sandbox cluttering up the place? I can’t see what’s so difficult about hiding a theme option without removing it from existing blogs. All you would have to do is add a BIG WARNING to the theme description saying that the theme is deprecated, it is recommended that you upgrade, and if you do change themes, you will not be able to get the old one back. Simples! And then I would no longer be troubled by the continuing existence of Sweet Blossoms.

[ETA: unsurprisingly, though it was a surprise for them since evidently not all Cutline users lurk in the CSS customisation forum, existing users are not massively pleased about the whole being screwed around thing.

If I were the person whose theme changed halfway through a presentation, or I were having to fend off emails from my boss about why the company blog suddenly looked weird, and then I found out the only reason this happened was because some guy had a vendetta going against some other guy because of a disagreement over SOFTWARE LICENCES… wow. I don’t know how I’d even begin to compute that level of estrangement from reality.]

Comments (20)

sandboxing

@eksith: there are a whole bunch of sandbox skins at http://sndbx.org, though they’re a couple of years old and might require tweaking to work with the latest version of the theme. I have a few more oldish ones (including sandbox versions of other people’s themes) at http://ntuat.wordpress.com and devblog does them at http://sandboxskins.wordpress.com. If anyone knows any other sources, please let me know.

@Noel: are there any plans to deprecate older versions of Sandbox at any point? On the one hand I am lazy and want to keep my 0.6.1 skins up indefinitely (I like the ability to pick your layout through the admin panel, which later versions lack), but on the other I can see that having four or five versions of the same theme could be confusing for users. Also, could you possibly give us some idea of what has changed/improved between 1.1 and 1.6.1? Is there any added functionality, or is this just a functional upgrade to ensure compatibility with the latest version of WP?

Can anybody explain why this comment is deemed too offensive to appear on the news blog? I have a couple of ideas but none of them seem adequate:

  1. self-promotion. OK, but the fellow commenter was asking for examples of what could be done with sandbox and so I was providing some. I was trying to be helpful. I know, I know, Automattic have made it perfectly clear that they do not want my help, but eksith had made no such stipulation and it’s not really up to Automattic to make that decision on his behalf.
  2. asking of questions. I know we are not meant to ask questions in announcement posts, but nor am I allowed to ask questions on the forum, and frankly it does not seem urgent enough to pester Support with. If you have a major problem with my asking what has been changed and whether older versions will be deprecated, then please say so in your reply, rather than just pretending I never asked. (I don’t know exactly why anyone would have issues with my asking these things, unless of course they didn’t know the answers, in which case there seems little point in asking Support since they won’t know either.)
  3. it is official company policy not to allow any comments by me to appear on the news blog. That would be vaguely flattering but to be honest I don’t think I’m that important. They’re already compromising their professionalism enough by refusing me access to forum support.

This is why I don’t make many Sandbox skins anymore. I don’t mind having new versions sprung upon me with zero notice, but I would like to know how they differ from the one I’ve been working with, to save me and every other person who deals with custom stylesheets from having to examine the code independently and deduce for themselves what the differences are (and if there aren’t any, wow, thank you so much for wasting our time). It would be nice to know whether the older versions will ever be made unselectable for new users, so I know whether it is worth my time converting older skins. I’m providing a service for fellow users here; I don’t want thanks or recognition but a little bit of civility and the occasional smidgeon of help would be nice.

Seriously, I’m this close to taking http://ntuat.wordpress.com down altogether. It can’t be good for my blood pressure to keep banging my head against brick walls like this. I keep thinking of Brian Gardner’s point about the inadvisability of building a business on a platform that is actively hostile towards your aims. Obviously I am not stupid enough to try building a business upon custom CSS, but the same point stands. Automattic have done a superb job of killing any potential market there might have been for custom stylesheets, mainly by dint of drilling support staff and volunteers that users must on no account be advised to purchase the upgrade if they are not already fully-fledged code mavens. Which is odd, since people on blogger and livejournal appear to have no problems applying cut-and-paste templates without such expertise, nor in understanding that any support issues with said templates are best referred to the designer rather than to blogger or livejournal.

No: the real fear here is that people having already spent their $15 on the ability to customise their blog would be willing to hand over even more wonga to a third party willing to do it for them. Automattic are fond of protesting that they welcome people making money off the back of wordpress.org, but you don’t hear them saying they want anyone other than themselves profiting from wordpress.com. If they encouraged people to make and distribute free sandbox skins, sooner or later somebody would produce a ‘premium’ skin, or start offering custom designs, and, since CSS and images are officially not covered by the GPL, Automattic couldn’t stop them from releasing them under whatever licence they chose. I’m the thin end of the wedge. I know that.

OK, I appear to have answered my own question. Comments referring to the existence of third-party sandbox skins cannot be allowed to appear on the official blog, since this would raise awareness of their existence and other people might start making them. Of course, my skins are all impeccably GPL and I have never considered charging a penny for them, but since when has that made a difference? If theme designers are scum, then skin designers — mere parasites upon the greatness that is wp.com! — must be the lowest of the low and extinguished at all costs.

Like I say. I’m this close to giving up on wordpress.com and concentrating on platforms such as livejournal and dreamwidth which actually encourage users to create and share their own stylesheets. Sure, you could read that as exploitation (though no worse than Automattic have done for years with their commandeering of amateur-created themes) but it feels a lot more healthy and constructive to me than the weirdness going on here.

Comments (16)

little helps

My response to the hastily convened sidebar poll (after people started whining about the front page redesign being an uninformative mess):

1. The tag cloud. I know they’re sooo 2007, but it kids people into thinking you care about the long tail.

2. A big picture of Matt in a sunny location, wearing a cowboy hat

Tags going from the front page is on the surface an odd decision considering how important tag pages are to ad revenue, so I’m wondering whether they got some kind of warning from Google about their SEO gaming? like ‘you can keep the obfuscated links in themes if you stop linking from the front page’? Or maybe they want to encourage internal users to use search instead of clicking on tags, so that the majority of tag traffic comes from outside the site and improves the ratio of clickthroughs per pages served? I’m just thinking aloud here. I know nothing about adsense optimisation or SEO, except that every design decision on a commercial site is ultimately motivated to maximising ad revenue, which is increasingly hard to come by nowadays. Also, of course, presenting yourself as the home of eleven VIP blogs and ignoring the messy penguin-ridden millions isn’t going to hurt when it comes to luring businesses away from Typepad.

In other news: how to promote your brand in a zillion tweets. Forget the guff about linkrot and fear of spam (if they actually cared about this, Automattic would have just bought tr.im or some other struggling minnow), this is all about being sad that link shorteners take your brand name out of your urls. (And squeezing an affiliate link to GoDaddy into your announcement post — every little helps…)

Comments (2)

the smiley liberation front

I am now so enraged by the mysterious disappearance of my beloved roll-eyes smiley, and the replacement without notice of ALL existing smilies with anaemic substitutes and the lack of any response to my bug report concerning same, that I need all you logged-in people to go along and rate this FAQ as Very Poor, at least until it stops telling lies. != .

(Yes, I know, there he is. But I need him in comments! And for some bizarro reason even though I can post VIDEOS in OTHER PEOPLE’S comment threads I can’t post an ickle 16×16 gif in my OWN, even though there is a clearly visible BUTTON in the edit window inviting me to insert an image. In what universe does this make any form of sense? I told you I was enraged.)

Would you go into my blog and change the font or header image without my say-so? No, you would not, so quit messing with our content and give us the option to choose the old smilies. We know they are not things of great beauty and they do not match the floofy backend, but at least you can see what they’re supposed to be.

Comments (17)

gifts

[long sigh]

OK people, censored comment on this post. (No, I don’t know why people blog if they don’t welcome comments either. You’d have to ask them. Just don’t go expecting an answer.)

Of course, if people have been ripping off CC-licenced images and CSS, this judgement clarifies that the original creators are well within their rights to pursue the offenders; and nine times out of ten those are the elements of the theme people are interested in stealing, not the fairly generic PHP files. I know Automattic doesn’t believe there’s any distinction between functional, not-visible-to-end-users PHP and creative artwork, but it’s sad that you’re still living in denial even when your internet lawyers have conceded the point.

One of my friends is a successful livejournal designer who has had some of her templates converted by a third party (without her permission, by the way) to wordpress themes. I’m not sure it’s actually legal to relicence someone else’s creative work as GPL, whether you’re lifting it wholesale from another platform or merely using CC-licenced images or resources, but if these people were to upload these templates to wordpress.org that’s what the situation would be. You’re obviously cool with that. I, equally obviously, am not.

WP is GPL because of a decision Michel Valdrighi made several years ago. It doesn’t make coders morally superior that they abide by the licencing terms they’re lumbered with, and it doesn’t make designers bad people to want to be credited and compensated for their creative work. Sure, you can force people to embrace GPL by blackmailing them or encouraging others to relicence their content on their behalf, but I still don’t believe that’s how open source should operate. A gift that isn’t given freely isn’t really a gift at all.

Mostly. I’m disappointed with the lack of any denial that stealing and relicensing other people’s stuff is OK with Automattic. We all knew that was the case anyway, but it’s depressing to have it confirmed again.

Comments (9)

it is what it is

Even though graphics and CSS aren’t required to be GPL legally, the lack thereof is pretty limiting. Can you imagine WordPress without any CSS or javascript? So as before, we will only promote and host things on WordPress.org that are 100% GPL or compatible. .

Wow. Disingenuous, much? Your internet lawyers just admitted that the only elements of a theme covered by GPL are the PHP files, but you’re going to go ahead and insist on everything else being GPL anyway.

(What happens, by the way, if I give all the WP functions their own files within the theme, separating them from the html and calling them with a common-or-garden php include? Would index.php catch GPL merely by virtue of calling files that calls WP functions? OK, so nobody in their right mind is going to attempt this, but still.)

Actually this is pretty reassuring for anyone still clinging on to CC — they can protect their CSS and images if they choose to do so, freeing them to use third-party CC content such as icons, photos, brushes or backgrounds. HTML generally isn’t special enough to be worth protecting anyway. They can’t submit the resulting themes to wordpress.org — Automattic don’t have the resources to moderate them — but nobody really suffers from that apart from users who are too lazy to look beyond its heavily limited selection; it’s not like there’s a shortage of alternative directories.

Meanwhile, I feel vaguely sorry for the saps who bought multi-use licences for hundreds of dollars from the various premium theme developers, only to discover within months (or weeks, or even days) that those who only bought a single-use package are now getting exactly the same deal, and that anyone who downloaded a pirate copy for nothing has officially done nothing wrong. But they don’t seem to be complaining too much (or maybe their comments are being censored, or maybe they’re too ashamed to admit to their stupidity in public, who knows?)

I can see that the developers were pushed into a corner here; you can’t risk being ostracised by the company who own your platform, because without official backing people won’t trust you enough to do business with you. It was OK while everyone was in the wilderness together, but as soon as one sucked it up and toed the GPL line they all had to, or he was going to get the monopoly. If you make iPhone apps you’re at the mercy of Apple, if you build a business around wordpress themes you’re at the mercy of Automattic. It’s just the price you have to pay. I still don’t believe that the GPL was conceived with the intention of being used to protect the interests of big corporations and manipulate the little guys, but it is what it is.

Comments (17)

boring stuff for no pay

Yeah, ok, we get that Matt Thomas doesn’t need any notice whatsoever to do WordPress design projects, but has it crossed your mind that this may be because it is his JOB?

Anyway, the way I read it, the issue with the has-patch marathon was not so much that people had no notice, it was that wp-hackers didn’t get a heads-up before the rest of the world thus making it uncomfortably clear exactly how unimportant they are. It’s partly this perception of their own irrelevance, of course, which necessitates these events in the first place; if your experience of submitting patches is that they get ignored or dismissed then you don’t have much incentive to keep doing it. It’s all very well to say they don’t need a deadline to contribute, but, hello, we’re talking about geeks here. They appreciate structure and measurable goals, not to mention reassurance that their efforts will actually be noticed.

I cannot shake the suspicion that this drive to get designers involved with the development process is an attempt to divert them from theme production. (We have enough troublesome theme developers already; the last thing Automattic wants is to encourage them.) Also, if boring things such as tweaking the user interface can be outsourced to students working for nothing, that frees up the inhouse design team to work on fun stuff like themes. .com users are always bitching about not having enough themes; why hire outsiders to produce them when you already have designers on the payroll?

The flaw in this plan? Well, I sort of wonder whether doing boring stuff for no pay is going to be quite as appealing to the community as doing fun stuff for no pay. We’ll see.

Comments (6)

i <3 blogger

Hands up who’s in love with the fact that the corporate sponsors of wordpress.com’s first LJ-style competition host their own blog on blogspot?

Sadly, since the contest requires the use of expensive proprietary software (needless to say, I am not the only person to have noticed the incongruity here) there has not been a huge response from the freeloaders of .com and Automattic have had to resort to plugging it on ma.tt.

Looking at his new bloated uberheader, I’d say cod Dali is probably the way to win the hearts of the judges. Also, if you were wondering why there’s no linklove for the guy who converted the comps into code, it’s probably because he’s using a theme by somebody else and that’s never good for one’s credibility. And I’m really, really sorry, but I cannot resist pointing out its utter failure to validate. You know I would never normally be sufficiently assholish to mention that but hey, glass houses.

Comments (7)

here we go again

Late to this one (Christmas shopping, meh), but, yeah, if you didn’t already hear, Matt has, unilaterally and without prior notice, purged extend/themes of over a quarter of its content. As well as targeting premium theme sites, this allegedly includes any theme linking to a site which carries an affiliate link to WooThemes. Whether this ban also encompasses affiliate links to theme sites other than Adii’s, I do not know (though affiliate links to Revolution are presumably kosher, seeing as how wordpress.org was carrying one till they were called on it). How Joseph felt about his theme-vetting skills being publically dissed in such a way, I do not know. What the hell was going through Matt’s brain at the time, I also do not know, but it’s December again so we can’t go expecting too much in the way of rationality.

Somebody in the sacred inner circle really needs to point out to Matt that if he doesn’t let go of his obsession with persecuting theme designers it’s going to start seriously hurting the community. For a start, it should have been apparent to anyone with half a brain that premium themers were going to release freebies and submit them to wordpress.org as a promotional tool; partly for the linkage, partly to showcase their skills. If Matt didn’t want people doing that it should have been made clear at the outset.

Of course, there is no logical reason why he should not want them doing that. A GPL theme is a GPL theme, regardless of who designed it or the motives behind its release. And if it’s been made to persuade you to invest in the designer’s other work, it needs to be a decent one. Free themes by premium designers? What is so terrible about this, exactly? Nobody is forcing people to buy whatever other themes the designer or his/her affiliates has on offer. Nobody is even forcing anyone to keep the link to a profit-making site. The whole concept of GPL is that you can’t enforce these things, that it doesn’t much matter who originally created the code, and that you can take it and make of it what you will. Refusing to distribute a GPL theme (or plugin, for that matter) because you personally dislike what the developer has done with their website pretty much flies in the face of that spirit of openness. The code is rejected because of who made it, rather than judged on its own merits; and end-users are deprived of a free theme.

(Still, let’s face it, it’s a very long time since anyone involved in this endless GPL jihad bothered to think about the poor bloody users.)

People stipulating that you can’t remove their links? Also to be expected by anyone with half a brain. I mean, Michael Heilemann tried that with Kubrick, and that was apparently GPL enough to make it into core. If designers can’t be bothered to ascertain what the licence you’re imposing upon them actually entails, that’s their lookout. My understanding was that in submitting your theme to .org you render your theme GPL, because that’s what you agreed to when you uploaded it. And at this point it ceases to matter what you want people to do (or not do) with your theme. If you still care about things like being credited for your work, and you don’t want your free labour commercially exploited, then the only way to clarify your terms of use is to CC-licence your content and keep the hell away from wordpress.org. Come to that, it would be prudent to steer clear of designing for WordPress entirely and focus your efforts upon a platform that allows you to distribute your work under whichever terms you see fit.

I fully expect that the next offensive will be to ban links to non-Wordpress sites entirely, as was proposed for the abortive Marketplace. That could probably be handled on an automated level, and would prevent chucking the baby out with the bathwater and junking a perfectly good theme because of an iffy footer link. It would also prevent people from gaining any extra traffic or pagerank from designing a successful theme, not to mention preventing end users from following up on a theme they see on someone else’s blog. But then, SEO spamming is Serious Business and should be left to those with multiple PR8 and 9 sites at their disposal.

Comments (13)

change lightly

We don’t take change lightly, but the good news is that this redesign provides a solid foundation that we’ll be able to build on for the next 5 years of WordPress, just like the last one was basically the same for 5 years.

Years? Don’t you mean ‘months’? It is eight of those, by my reckoning, since the last ‘new dashboard design’ post. You have to love how 2.5 is being erased from the official history before 2.7 is even out of the door. (Also, of course, wordpress.com hasn’t been around for five years, which would make it difficult for its dashboard to have been the same for all that time, though if last April was five years ago in the WP universe I suppose it is feasible enough.)

I had to switch colour schemes to escape the default icons (something about them screams ‘barebones Linux distro’, which was only to be expected given their genesis) but I’m not about to get too angry with or attached to something which will inevitably be superceded come 3.0.

Meanwhile, I want to know who came up with the name ‘blavatar’ and whether they have been punished yet. I was initially baffled by the decision to make people upload new images rather than just using the 16×16 version of their current avatar, but then I remembered — multiple blogs. This way you can vary your favicon from blog to blog. I have no idea why this wasn’t explained in the post. Maybe it was covered in the video, but I don’t bother with videos because I can read.

Comments (16)

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