For the most part, I don’t think the readers of my sites care. If you’re at my photo blog, you could care less about the code that goes into the back end, you’re there to look at pictures. If you’re on jamesrlee.info, it’s probably because I wrote a tutorial that you need. It’s about the content – not the theme that styles the web page.
But I care about the style, because I know that the way information is presented makes it easier (or harder) to use. As such, I strive for clean designs that are unobtrusive.
Quite frankly, it’s how I design everywhere. For example, I’m designing a new web site for work right now. I’m trying to keep it very simple and easy to use. The site has two main purposes, and I want them to pop when you view the page. I don’t want users to get lost in a bunch of details that have nothing to do with my message. I’m not a professionally trained designer, so I am actually using someone for help on that project. Steve Sicherman is really good, and reasonably priced – I highly recommend his services.
Sorry – I’m getting off topic. I switched themes, which means I am changing the design of my web sites. I was using Thesis, I am now using Canvas.
It started with a very public spat between Chris Pearson, the author of Thesis, and Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress. They argued, quite publicly, about the way Thesis was licensed, and whether Chris was violating the software license that WordPress issues. If you want to know more about that, there are – several – great – resources. In the end, Chris capitulated somewhat, but along the way he lost his business partner. And some customers.
Matt Mullenweg famously offered to buy anyone a copy of another Premium theme. I haven’t received any of that money, but I did buy into Canvas from WooThemes, and so far, it’s an improvement for me.
jronaldlee.com now looks like this:
It used to look like this:
Smaller photos on the home page, with just a snippet of text. Still, the individual post pages are almost the same.
So what’s my take on the two themes? Which is better?
If you really know what you’re doing with PHP and CSS, Thesis is amazing. It’s really complicated, but that’s because it has so much power. If you know what you’re doing, you can make a Thesis site look like anything you can think of.
If you’re not a coder or designer, you should stay away from Thesis. I’m officially endorsing Canvas for 99% of the world… it’s just that much easier to use, and not very hard to customize, either.
Because there are more people using Thesis at this point, the support forums are a little better, but again, unless you’re doing some high level customizations, you’re better off with a theme like Canvas and making your site yours via built in controls.
In the end, it wasn’t the GPL spat, or the ease of use that pushed me to Canvas. What pushed me over the edge was Chris himself.
Read The F—— Manual
If you want help with anything in Thesis, your first bet is go read the manual. The URL for the manual? RTFM.
It’s here: http://diythemes.com/thesis/rtfm/ – though this is a members only site, so you won’t be able to access it unless you’re a paying customer. As a business person who works in a professional environment, that URL bothers me. As someone with kids, it bothers me. If I want to teach a thirteen year old how to use Thesis, I have to tell the kid to “RTFM.” So I went to Chris’s forum and said it bothered me.
After taking a cheap shot from the staff about me taking their URL as a “personal insult” (I’m not dumb – I know it’s not directed at me), I explained that I was just trying to offer a different perspective on how they could run their business without alienating a portion of their customer base. That’s when Chris weighed in. He doesn’t participate in the forums that much… in fact, it’s only the 22nd time he has deigned to leave a response on his own forums, and here’s what he had to say:
If I want to run a lighthearted business, I have a right to do so. By the same token, you have control over how you choose to let things affect you. No harm or negativity is intended on our end, so as far as I’m concerned, this is something you need to address with yourself!
By that logic, I can use racial slurs, and as long as I mean no harm, and it’s all in good fun, the problem is with the people who get offended – not me.
So I reached back out again. Tried to tweet to Chris – no reply. Left a message on his forum – no reply. I have been labeled, and can now be ignored.
I don’t get a refund with this change. I’m just doing what I think is right… taking my efforts and putting them into places that don’t ask me to compromise my values. So it’s costing me a few bucks, but what can you do. In the end, it’s about how I want to live my life. If Chris wants to run a light hearted business that strains the boundaries of common business standards of polite behavior, he can.
And I can take my sites in a different direction if he wants to be sophomoric about the whole thing.
EDIT: I’ve since moved again… at this point, I’ve tried all three of the big dogs (DIY, Woo!, and StudioPress). I’ll write more about it later…