If you blog, you’ve probably heard of WordPress. It’s a blogging platform that makes it easy to post content on the Web. You just type your entry in a form, click the Publish button, and your entry appears on your blog (sort of like a Web site). What you’re reading right now, for example, is a blog post. A theme controls the appearance of everything on the blog and sometimes its functionality. You can change the entire look and layout of your blog simply by installing and activating a new theme. It’s as easy as changing clothes.
Recently I was helping a colleague of mine create a new blog at Slampapi.com/blog, so I needed to go shopping for a template. I asked friends to recommend templates. One said, “That should be easy enough. WordPress has over 4 million of them!” That was exactly my problem. I have trouble picking out a tube of toothpaste at the grocery store. How on earth could I be expected to choose from over 4 million templates!
Further compounding the problem is the fact that WordPress offers no effecient way for browsing through its massive collection. They don’t even sort the themes by category or color scheme. (I’m partial to three-column themes, and we were looking for something in grayscale.) The categories presented in the WordPress Themes directory consist of Most Popular, Newest, and Most Recently Updated. Those were of no use for me. When I did a search for “three-column grayscale” I was presented with a long list of themes that included everything from 1- to 4-column themes. Ugh!
Finally, I used my “Call a friend” option and called upon my blog expert buddy, Mikal Belicove. He recommended the Thesis theme. He told me to watch the 16-Minute Demo Video and then let him know what I thought. I took his advice and watched the video. Wow! The video made the process of customizing the blog as easy as toasting a slice of bread. I was SOLD! I ordered the developer’s edition for $167, downloaded my copy of the theme, installed it, and was ready to roll… or so I thought.
The one thing I wanted to do is replace the blog title at the top with a large graphic. I’d done it before in WordPress without a hitch using a free template. Unfortunately, I could find no similar option in Thesis. What a ripoff, I thought. The one big customization thing I wanted to do, and I couldn’t find a way to do it!
So, I proceeded to do what I usually do when I try and fail at a task – I read the instructions. After some reading and playing with Thesis for a day, I realized that it is a well-designed theme – very powerful and flexible and even simple for most users. It can be more challenging than expected, however, if you need to customize the overall look, layout, or functionality of the template. In such cases, you may have to write scripts or wrestle with some CSS formatting codes, as you would need to do if you were customizing a free theme.
The difference with Thesis is that instead of making changes to the theme files, which are usually packed with a lot of code, you leave those files alone and make changes to two “custom” files – custom.css and custom_functions.php. This prevents users from having to search through a lot of code to find the code they want to modify and from inadvertently messing up the core theme files. In a way, this simplifies customization, but it takes some getting used to.
If you’re thinking of using Thesis, just keep your expectations in check. It comes with a bit of a learning curve, but once you get over the hump, you’ll never want to go back.