Web Design and Development

StudioPress Review, Part 1: Not the Best WordPress Theme

WordPress Revolution ThemeWay back in 2007 — over 6 years ago — I started to develop WordPress sites. At that time, most people still didn’t know what WordPress was.

Those that did would generally argue that it was “just a blog” and “not a CMS”, and would condescend both it and its users. It was an ugly era for WordPress and its users.

At the time, I was also learning PHP and CSS, something I had been putting off for years. Because I’ve been doing HTML since the 90s, learning it wasn’t too hard, but there was still a learning curve.

So like most people, I ran to Google to do some free research. That’s where I met Brian Gardner. This is the origin story of StudioPress, before it turned into a lousy theme.

Note: If you’re planning to skim the editorial, and are only looking for suggestions on which themes to use, then here it is: ThemeForest, Elegant Themes, Gabfire Themes, FlexiThemes, AppThemes and Graph Paper Press. Each of those has numerous easy-to-customize themes. ThemeForest alone has hundreds of excellent themes from several respected authors; it succeeds where StudioPress fails.

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Brian Gardner’s Revolution

Like me, Brian was still learning WordPress, PHP and CSS. He had a jump of about 6 months on me, which made him a good source of info. We’d communicate in emails back then, long before he had a site, or sold premium themes. That’s what WordPress was about back then — open source, and users helping fellow users.

Some months later, Brian released the Revolution WordPress premium (for-pay) themes. And a revolution it was! The themes were

  • professional looking
  • not gaudy or “themed” (flowers, video games, etc)
  • did not look like blogs whatsoever
  • and crushed the stubborn ideas that WordPress was not a CMS.

The anti-WordPress “not-a-CMS” crowd either shut up or changed their tune within a few months. Of all the theme authors out there, I credit him most for making that happen.

Beyond that, the code was easy to understand and follow, and contained plenty of commented-out mark-up for its users. Most themes, then and now, tended to be a near-indecipherable pile of code. No comments, bad spacing, CSS shorthand, etc. In fact, I thought the CSS was so well done that I adopted the method, and use it to this day!

Over the course of the next year or so, several great themes were released … before Revolution became Revolution Two. New site, new themes, the product of a merger. Most of the new themes were his, and still excellent, but a few obviously were not. The sloppy CSS, PHP, and lack of much markup was evident.

It was the beginning of the decline.

Brian Gardner: Missing In Action

One of the new features of Revolution Two was a forum. Finally, a place that Revolution and Revolution Two (and later StudioPress) users could go and discuss themes! No loner would be spread all over the internet. But Brian was nowhere to be found. It was his site, his forum, yet he almost never participated, and never responded to PMs. The theme owners — paid user of the themes — would be “helped” by mods (other users). It was about 50/50 on whether they would actually be helpful.

Revolution Two was shortlived — six months at most — before it became known as StudioPress. And initially the StudioPress themes were just rebadged or updated Revolution or Revolution Two themes. (More on that in part 2.) Development of truly “new” themes seems to have stopped. Where was Brian? The author for themes was no longer “Brian Gardner” but “StudioPress”, and the code was becoming more complicated on the themes that were new. Notes were few and sparse, if at all.

Next came Genesis.

In addition to Brian being gone, one day the old themes were suddenly gone too! No more Revolution, no more Revolution Two, no more StudioPress. If you didn’t download theme while you could, I guess you were screwed. There was no warning that I saw. Remember that these are paid themes — not frees ones! It’s not like these are old software that won’t work anymore — they’re just designs for WordPress sites! You can use them just fine with WP 3.5, in fact. So why? I just don’t understand the logic here. When asked, the StudioPress mods would say they’re gone, and that was that.

These real disappearance came in 2012.

StudioPress (now owned by Copyblogger) decide to take the old vBulletin 4.x forum offline. In time, they plan to dump it, losing the conversations of yesteryear, and further leaving paid themes owners in the dark. While they’ve replaced it with a bbPress forum, there’s even less moderation there than it had been in the past. To get help from StudioPress staff, you’re supposed to now submit a ticket. But here’s the thing: THEY NEVER RESPOND!

And Brian Gardner? I have no idea. I don’t even see his name on the site anymore.

In Part Two

Now that you know about the people involved, and it’s history, let’s look at the themes itself. The coding, and the “as-is only” template nature of the themes now. No longer is it a versatile wireframe. The WordPress revolution is over. In fact, it ended long ago.

Have comments or feedback? — Be sure to share your thoughts at this forum post.

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