WordPress Themes Team Contributors Get Pushback on Proposal to Improve Block Themes’ Visibility in the Directory

Seven weeks ago, WordPress Theme Team contributors proposed several ideas for improving block themes’ visibility on WordPress.org. These included the possibility of changing the popular themes algorithm to more prominently feature block themes, and/or adding a new “Block” menu item next to Popular and Latest on the themes directory home page.

The directory is going through some growing pains as themes that are compatible with the site editor are the only ones that offer access to everything WordPress has to offer in the new paradigm of blocks. Yet, the 94 available block themes represent fewer than 1% of the directory’s 9,761 themes.

It’s an interesting time in WordPress’ history where the theme a user selects can significantly limit the ability to take advantage of WordPress’ latest features. This is why some contributors are proposing that block themes get more visibility in the directory. It directly impacts FSE adoption and consequently its improvement, as people using it is the pathway to better quality feedback that will shape its future in WordPress.

After five weeks the ticket went silent, following WordPress lead developer Dion Hulse’s recommendation that re-doing the front page of the directory would likely be the best way to solve the needs communicated in the ticket. Two weeks ago the discussion was reignited when WordPress theme developer and Themes Team contributor Dumitru Brinzan commented with strong opposition to the idea of promoting block themes:

This goes against everything that was discussed about the role of themes in the past 10 years at least.

In the past there have been a lot of instances when a new tab with themes, a different algorithm, a different order, different X, Y, Z have been appropriate.

Every single time theme authors heard the same song: it is not the role of .org to promote or market any particular product. It is not the role of .org to make the themes repo look like the plugins repo.

The logical request of removing the default Twenty themes from the Popular tab fell on deaf years.

But now there’s a new shiny toy (that is not even ready or wanted by the general public).
And suddenly people with a direct interest in having a spotlight on their themes are pushing this “new” idea.

This is a spit in the face of the hundreds (if not thousands) of theme authors that have been contributing to .org until now.

Automattic-sponsored Themes Team contributor Sarah Norris submitted a PR that adds a ‘Block’ tab to the Theme Directory filter list. It filters themes using the full-site-editing tag, which is currently buried three clicks deep for those who know how to apply the filter.

source: PR to Add Block tab to filter list

“These types of themes are more commonly referred to as block themes, so by adding this tag, we are reducing the confusion between these terms and making it clearer how to filter by block themes in the directory,” Norris said.

Hulse concluded that the PR was “the most straight forward way forward here, making the most impact today,” but questioned whether “block” is the best term to use.

Christian Zumbrunnen, another participant in the discussion, suggested classic themes get a label as well, such as “Classic,” which could be changed to “Deprecated” sometime in the future.

“And another question: why would my non-FSE themes built for the Block Editor be relegated to the ‘classic themes’ category?” Brinzan said. “Why give priority specifically to FSE themes, all the while calling them ‘block’ themes? My classic themes work perfectly well with blocks. Why create any more confusion under the false pretense of making things ‘easier and clearer?’”

The difference here is that while most themes now support the block editor for content, very few include full support for the block-based site editor. Brinzan contends that contributors should work towards creating a more efficient search and improving the browsing/filtering experience for themes:

The whole directory needs to be improved. It’s not right (or fair) to prioritize one type of themes, when many of them aren’t even production-ready.
Funneling all WordPress users towards an unfinished and clunky product won’t do anyone any good. WordPress is not known for its elegant UI, and this will make things worse. WordPress users are not guinea pigs to force Gutenberg and FSE on them at every step. Let this process take its natural course.

WordPress theme developers are facing the inevitable task of updating their themes to be FSE-enabled in order to remain relevant in the new era of using blocks to edit all aspects of a WordPress site. Themes that don’t support the full range of the platform’s features do not have long before they become the last vestiges of a bygone era of WordPress themes.

Hendrik Luehrsen, who agreed that full-site editing themes should be easier to find, said he is concerned about how to do that without “without downgrading the rest of the themes or without creating an Osborne Effect.” This notion, which is based on the downfall of the Osborne Computer Corporation, particularly affects consumer electronic products where prematurely announcing the imminent release of a technologically superior product can damage the sales of existing products.

The Osborne Effect may not be applicable in this case, since WordPress has already shipped FSE to those who want to take advantage of it, and block themes, the successor of legacy WordPress themes, are already here.

Automattic-sponsored Themes Team contributor Jeffrey Pearce urged contributors to reach a consensus and reminded them that the solution can always be iterated on later.

“It’s important to highlight that block themes can only get better with improved exposure by usage, which seems to be what most folks in here agree on,” Pearce said. “The solutions in this ticket don’t seek to demote classic themes, but rather they seek to improve the discoverability of Block Themes instead of the current filter approach.”

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