What I Learned From the Release of Thesis 2

DIYthemes’ release of Thesis 2.0 was arrogant and confusing.

UPDATE: DIYthemes’ Thesis 2 User’s Guide is out.
UPDATE 2: Web dev Sean Davis has a great “everybody chill out” article about the real reason that a lot of people are/were upset about Thesis 2. Truth to power.
Check out Why You Really Don’t Know How to Use Thesis 2… and What You Need to Do About It.

I‘ve been using the Thesis theme framework by DIYThemes for over a year now.

Not that long compared to other users, but long enough for me realize that I was part of a loyal, hardworking community that values clean, crisp design and conscientious social integration.

There is a quiet power in using a theme designer that safely unlocks WordPress while allowing a novice to work and tinker and eventually create something new while learning the ropes.

The resulting design is truly the product of it’s creator, and the end user is affected by this process. That makes for a emotional attachment that can be pretty strong, which is why October 1, 2012 was a roller-coaster for Thesis users.

Thesis 2! The wait is over!

October 1 is when Thesis 2.0 finally became available. It was an exciting day for many that had become used to a powerful interface with a rich feature set that included copious resources, such as the massive tutorial list, SEO guide, and blog posts that the very developers were active in updating. It was clear that this was no mere update; it was a new platform altogether. The install process told me that much.

People were excited. So was I. Why then, did I write, “Yikes. Back to 1.8.5.” on the DIYThemes Facebook Page?

The interface confused me. I didnt recognize it. Where were my contols for dimensions, fonts, columns, header? How was I supposed to safely access the .php and .css to really dig in there with the ingenious ‘hooks’ that the DIY guys crafted for neophytes like myself?

I realized that I was lost. I even went on to describe the situation as ‘lame’ in another comment.

To add insult to injury- in my mind, anyway- the design launch page included a headshot of lead developer Chris Pearson in groucho-glasses and fake nose. Unease crept in… was this a put on?

I grew agitated.

A Confusing and Upsetting Release.

I even left the following comment under this article by Derek Halpern on the DIYThemes blog entry that was touting, among other things, great typography and an easy way to make a 404 page –

“Firstly, Derek, much respect to you for the past help you’ve given. And much respect to Pearson for starting all of this. But this… Unless the best tutorial ever shows up and enlightens the loyal patrons of Thesis (including myself) as to how 2.0 will work better for the majority of users, this may fizzle HUGE. I’m messing with 2.0 right now, and this is not why I signed on with Thesis. The bulk of this article is over-selling aspects that were already possible with a bit of research. I’m feeling like I ordered prime rib, was brought a shoe, then the waiter tells me that the fork is new.”

Ugh. I know, I lashed out (I was lost and confused, remember?). I was frustrated at what I perceived to be glib damage-control. Another user replied (I’m paraphrasing), that though it seemed bad, the team had been there for us, so lets cut them some slack, eh?

Um, where’s the Thesis 2 instructions?

But that was the thing, wasn’t it? That’s what began to bother me more than the new interface, the controls that I didn’t understand, that clown picture that threatened to be there every time I wanted to make a change… the lack of deeper knowledge of site structure and design elements were my fault. I had to man up and admit that.

What upset me and made me uneasy was a simple detail. One that I had taken for granted before, and was now conspicuous in its absence…

It appeared that Chris and the guys had released Thesis 2.0 without a manual.

I felt that I was now required to learn not only a whole new scheme, but understand and get savvy with elements of css and other specifics that I was originally using Thesis 1.x to do for me in the first place. Basically, I felt as if I was going to be left behind. Wah… yeah, I know.

This decision seemed… strange. I found that I wasn’t alone in that thinking.

Thesis 2 like “jumping into a maze”

I put out the feelers for other bloggers to get their take, and the lack of tutorial upon release did not go unnoticed by other users, design novice and veteran alike. In an otherwise positive Famous Bloggers review, Hesham Zebida acknowledges:

“When 2.0 was released, I didn’t find any documentation at all, so it maybe confusing, but that’s OK, there is one page with basic information to get you started, which I think is useful for those who are already familiar with the theme. But, if you are new to Thesis, then I have the feeling that you will be lost!”

Eric Binnion’s 2.0 review from Art of Blog also detailed the developer’s perplexing decision by likening his first experience to ‘jumping into a maze’. He managed to get some clarification from DIYThemes developer Matt Gross via Twitter:

Yong Jae Chong’s post in WordPress Aficionado summed up the frustration quite well:

“…But releasing a product with no documentation is very mickey mouse. We spend our hard earned money on a product but its worthless because we don’t know how to use it. I know Chris Pearson has tweeted that a documentation is coming in about 30 days but it should have been already written and released to the public.”

DIYthemes’ Hubris-filled Boner

I commented on this post as well, using the term “hubris-filled boner”… I was still a bit hot. Yong did mention that developer Chris Pearson tweeted the intention to release documentation, and I’ve found another tweet from Oct. 4 confirming as much:

So once the emotions settled, a clearer picture emerged. I understand that there are several talented and hardworking people under a ton of pressure to build a mousetrap better than the one they’ve already created.

It seems that they put forth an aggressive deadline to finally release the next big stage of their product, not just to say they have, but to make it a reality, to begin the big work of building the next era.

They have admitted (as in Matt Gross’ aforementioned tweet) that they just wanted to get the damn thing out. I understand all of that. And I still like and respect them and their product enough to know that this may work out.

Plus, I still have that powerful 1.8.5 to help me publish until the time is right to move up.

What I Learned From the Release of Thesis 2


There is a lesson here, and judging from the last few days of heated social media traffic, I think others may agree.

Bear with my analogy for a moment: Let’s say I have a dog. I love my dog. The dog gets on in years. The pet store says, ‘don’t worry, your dog is about to get better, and here he is!’ A horse trots in. ‘Isnt that great? See you later!’

Um, I don’t know how to ride a horse. I definitely don’t know how to take care of one. Give me some warning. Riding lessons and the address of a feed store would be great.

That type of behavior smacks of arrogance and confuses the uninitiated. Consumers that don’t know the whole story often revolt with their dollars and loyalty. Whereas this may not have happened with Thesis, it does happen in other markets.

As a hopeful entrepreneur, this point has not been lost on me. There will always be growing pains, but damage control is never a fun mode. I’m not telling these guys their business. This is really about what I’ve learned.

Pearson’s earnestness and visible profile in the face of the critical onslaught is a good sign. I trust that the tutorials will be there. I know they will turn Thesis 2 into something even better than what I’m sure it already is, and I look forward to learning more. My hope is that it will benefit my future.

Oh, and lose the groucho glasses.

EPILOGUE: In the ensuing months since DIYthemes’ Thesis 2 release, I had denied learning to use this powerful new tool. This very site is still using Thesis 1.85.

I was still upset over what I viewed as arrogant and irresponsible behavior on the part of people that I trusted. But what the heck you gonna do? Mistakes were made, and it’s time to actually learn to build a website.

This content of this article was essentially addressed in Sean Davis’ article about Thesis 2 and the uproar over its release:

I’m not here to fight with you about how the launch was conducted. I’m not here to argue with you about best business practices. I don’t get down like that.

I’m here to do one thing and one thing only… teach you how to think about webpages so you can shut your face and start using Thesis 2.

Maybe it’s time to do just that.

You can read more over at Sean Davis Media: Why You Really Don’t Know How to Use Thesis 2…

Here are a few more Thesis 2 resources in case anyone is interested:

Thesis 2:
DIYthemes’ Thesis 2 resource guide: Thesis Theme User’s Guide
Kristarella: Installing Thesis 2.0
Rick Anderson: Thesis 2.0 Video Tutorials
Thesis 1:
DIYthemes’ The Thesis Statement

Brian Edward Smith is founder and editor of WeRinCtrl.com.


What do you think?