Pardon our dust –or– Netninja on Thesis

constructionAs you can tell by the ubiq­ui­tous ‘90s-era non­trans­par­ent ani­mated shov­eler graphic at right, Netninja.com has been under con­struc­tion this week­end. Everything looks fine now, but this is a warn­ing that there may still be some loose cov­er­plates hid­ing spark­ing wires. You see — today, I installed the Thesis theme engine for WordPress. What does this mean? For most folks, it means almost noth­ing. There is a slightly new look with a bit more spit-and-polish. Blog posts were shuf­fled to the /blog sub­di­rec­tory (http://netninja.com/blog/) and the website’s root (http://netninja.com/) serves as a bet­ter table of con­tents. Beyond that, lit­tle has changed.

“So, then, why’d you change?”

For this, we need to take a lit­tle his­tory les­son. Back when I started exper­i­ment­ing with WordPress in lieu of LiveJournal, about 3 years ago, I found a theme I liked. The term “steam­punk” was not in pop­u­lar use yet, but I liked the style and found a great free wood-and-brass WordPress theme. As WordPress matured over the years, releas­ing bet­ter ver­sions with more fea­tures and fancier user inter­faces, I dis­cov­ered the dirty secret of most free themes:

The major­ity of free themes are aban­don­ware, cre­ated once by a web designer for a one-off site or to expand her port­fo­lio and are never looked at again

As WordPress matured, the free theme that I was using did not. The fail­ure mode for this theme, and most oth­ers, was non-graceful. Each newly added fea­ture brought more quirky behav­ior from the theme. I finally aban­doned it, unable to find a suit­ably themed replace­ment, in favor of cre­at­ing my own. I started with the theme that came with WordPress and mucked around with its stylesheets using Firebug until I arrived at some­thing that looked rea­son­ably like the theme I had pre­vi­ously used.

This, too, worked great for a while. Then WordPress released a newer ver­sion with a newer base theme. As I recall, the biggest dif­fer­ence was with nested com­ments, but there were a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of minor dif­fer­ences as well. I once again had to go through the exer­cise of migrat­ing my CSS changes from the old style to the lat­est. I had used that for a while and have been happy, but I now under­stand that ver­sion 2.9 is on the hori­zon and do not wish to repeat that exer­cise.

With that his­tory, I can now answer “why did you change to Thesis?” I run a num­ber of plu­g­ins on this site. Several of them have PayPal dona­tion links. I have even donated to a few of them. And yet, I see no themes with such dona­tion links and few (if any) free themes with an active, sup­port­ive, user­base. I have peeked at a num­ber of for-pay themes out there, but Thesis seemed the most robust and upgrad­ably hack­able (that is, hack­able with the least amount of effort each time WordPress and/or Thesis gets updated). Given the choice between spend­ing a lot of time fix­ing my theme each upgrade, not upgrad­ing, or shelling out some money for a pro­fes­sional theme, I chose the pro­fes­sional theme.

P.S. I know a lot of peo­ple hype the SEO aspects of Thesis. I appre­ci­ate that out of the box Thesis does its due dili­gence like putting the post key­words in the HTML key­word meta tag (some­thing that the default WordPress theme, sur­pris­ingly, does not do). However, I am not an SEO nut and am not excited by all the SEO options attached to each post.

P.P.S. One of the most vocal Thesis sup­port­ers in the PDX com­mu­nity is Aaron Hockley of Social Photo Talk. I am not a pho­tog­ra­pher, but I have fol­lowed his posts on Social Photo Talk because many of them make good blog­ging sense for non-photographers. If you click over to that blog and get Thesis through his yel­low affiliate-link ban­ner over there, I’m sure it will make him happy.

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