It has been close to two months since I released Suffusion through WordPress Themes and it has been a great ride. This has been my first open source contribution where I have had public visibility, so naturally I was apprehensive about how it would be received. But curiosity definitely outweighed apprehension and I went ahead with it. A couple of days back the theme completed 5000 downloads – not as fast as I would have liked it too, but definitely a landmark I feel good about.
The germination of the theme was an interesting story in itself. I have never liked using themes designed by others, though there are several really good themes out there. Somehow I don’t feel that my site’s design should be in determined by somebody else, hence I have always tended to render an author’s original creation indiscernible by the time I have it on my blog. I once asked my brother Koke to give his feedback regarding my previous theme and he, more out of respect for my advanced age relative to him, politely picked holes in it instead of savagely ripping it to shreds.
So I went back to the drawing board, cut out the fancy graphics and went about building “GreenLight”. The first cut of the theme was quite elegant and for people who like lightweight themes, it was a godsend. Again, with an unsolicited thumbs up from my sole critic, I decided to take the plunge. I felt that there are several hugely popular themes that offer very little in the way of functionality and I could definitely do better.
I cleaned up my theme, removed the flab wherever I could, and submitted it to WordPress. WP wouldn’t take GreenLight, so I had to change the name to Suffusion. At that point I had planned to supply variants at a later day and the name “Suffusion” was meant to be ironic in the sense that I would have every variant except a “Suffusion of Yellow” (a reference to the I Ching calculator in Douglas Adams’ The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. So I waited after submitting. And waited some more. By my recollection it took the theme 3 days to get approved, but there weren’t any major changes required for the approval. It was a pretty straightforward “install and do some basic configurations” theme, with few frills. In the next few days as I saw the number of downloads tapering down, I learnt a few lessons:
- People prefer themes on dark colors
- Ability to tag keywords to your theme makes a gigantic difference. In other words, your theme might be very light on features, but as long as those features exist on some kind of “theme options”, you have a better opportunity of scoring hits.
With the goal of achieving two objectives at the same time I set about providing an options page. I was very impressed by the number of options that the Atahualpa theme provided, but one thing I noticed on a lot of themes was that the author asked the users to “enter their own CSS”. I found this surprising, since if the user knew CSS wouldn’t he/she be tweaking a lot more than the configuration? But anyway, with a very small base of users and absolutely no pressure to deliver anything, I could focus on the task at hand.
The second release of Suffusion had a much tougher time getting approved, mainly because of my use of PHP short tags. However, once released, the downloads spiked. And so did the feedback. Users made requests for supporting a large number of new features, some of which were already on my development agenda and some others which were not. Most people commented on the configuration options being easy to use, so I was doing something right!
One of the biggest challenges of releasing software is providing support. Software itself might be bug-free and feature-rich, but users might still need help using it. As the theme kept getting downloaded more and more, I found more and more support requests coming in. For my part I have tried to be prompt about providing support by responding to queries. Of course, since queries come from across the world, there is sometimes a lag of 5-6 hours (when I am asleep) in responses. But hopefully people have found my support useful.
A word about the new feature requests. These were very interesting, because it helped me understand the perspective of the users a lot better. Things that I would feel did not matter very much would turn out to be key requirements for users. A lot of users have been very helpful in illustrating what exactly they need and some have even volunteered with snippets of code to help me. All of this has helped me become aware of a lot of things:
- Features available in WordPress that I did not know about
- The general issues that users of WordPress face while using a theme
- Things that make themes popular
Along the way I came across a lot of plugins, I developed some widgets of my own (something I did not think I would do) and so on. I don’t charge for either the theme or for the support and yet I don’t see motivation to be an issue – people are using what I have written and I am quite happy for it.
The ride has been fun so far – let’s see where it takes me from here. For sure I know how I would do things differently for my new theme, but this journey with Open Source has been quite pleasing, to say the least!
29th October 2009: I am disabling comments on this page to discourage support requests here. Please use the Support forum to report issues and ask questions. That will create a better database for all users.
i love suffusion but is there any way to narrow the width of the page an inch on each side?
I am somewhat new to the blogging world, but I am using you suffusion theme and enjoying it so far. A quick question.
I have it set up to show excerpts on the front page instead of the full article / blog. What I really want is it to show an excerpt and a thumbnail photo on the front page for each individual article. I imagine this is possible but I am not sure how to do it. Can you help?
I am putting the finishing touches on a release that will let you do this. You will be able to define a thumbnail (or the excerpt will pick up an image from those attached). Stay tuned – the release should be out in a day or two.
Thanks for your great very useful theme – most impressed! I’m having a problem with nextgen gallery – it works fine in the nextgen sidebar widget (even with ie8 webslices enabled) but any tags in a page (eg. [nggallery id=1] ) do not show up…I’ve tried evry configuration/permutation I can think of – checked the source html generated by the widget – but no luck. Any idea for a workaround as I need to use nextgen & would love to keep using your theme…
I would start by requesting you to disable web-slices. If I look at your site currently, the fact that the footer is outside the wrapper for the rest of the content, is indicative of the fact that something is broken. Ideally the footer is shown inside.
Second, specifically for the nggallery short-code, does it work with another theme? If so, let me know and I will see what needs to be fixed.
As a part of my future releases I am planning to add better compatibility for popular widgets.
I’ve disabled webslices in the sidebar widget. Tried different themes – interesting. It seems it is a problem in NGGallery – try the page:
NGG shortcodes are under the two top images, but nothing shows.
– this is a new page that uses NGG ‘Albums” – it works.
Thanks for your prompt reply and apologies for my late one.
I am happy that someone said “It seems it is a problem in NGGallery”: one less thing to worry about from my side :-).
I haven’t worked with NextGen enough to use it well, so I cannot really comment on the shortcodes issue. Did you try their forum?
On a different note you might want to switch on “Breadcrumb navigation” in your Navigation Bar setup – currently it shows a blank strip at the top of your pages, just below the navigation bar.
it is – as far as I can tell ( & yes, I’ve double checked). Nothing showing here…
Keen to hear your NGG ideas – I’ve checked the forums (not posted yet) – no solutions yet with WP 2.8.5 and NGG 1.3.6
Well, I did post something on the NGG forum in WordPress, but it never got answered: http://wordpress.org/support/topic/316274?replies=1
I have downloaded your theme for use on a new website, thanks! However, i’m not very good at this stuff and all I want to do is change the font on the blog name in the header area. how do I do this? I’ve looked everywhere.
Please see here: http://mynethome.net/blog/contact/comment-page-4/#comment-512 .
Suffusion is a great theme. Is it possible to use a Buddypress plugin with Suffusion?
I haven’t tried. But I don’t see a problem – it really depends on the type of plugin and how it interacts with the theme files.
I set my site on your theme and it works great except for the buddypress plugin. I can get the buddypress plugin to work with other themes, but not Suffusion.
Can you give me the URL? And are you using WordPress MU? Also, which BuddyPress plugin are you using? Is it http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/buddypress/ ?
I’m using the latest WordPress MU and the buddypress plugin you referred to. My URL is http://tribespeak.com.cn/.
OK. I have trouble installing WP-MU, so maybe I have to do this by proxy.
Which aspect of BuddyPress do you not see working? Is it the “Sign-up” screen? Because that looks weirdly organized.
Another thing I noticed is the “English” tab you have in the “Right Header Widgets”.
If you are looking to fix these things then the fixes are pretty easy – I just need to provide you with stylesheet tweaks.
Everything on BuddyPress I click on says:
” Error 404 – Not Found
Sorry, the page that you are looking for does not exist.”
Yes, the sign-up screen looks weirdly organized and I’m not sure how to change that or how that happened. The sign-up part seems too big–maybe because of buddypress?
I have the English tab in the right header widgets because I’m using the xlanguage plug-in to make the site bilingual English and Chinese. It is working well, but it has a little “e” in a balloon on the English tab that I’m not too fond of though.
I haven’t found a way to make the sign-up page be able to switch to Chinese either. I found a way to input everything else into Chinese so that it can switch.
Can you move this to the support forum? That way you can upload screenshots to help me understand better. Post it here: http://www.aquoid.com/forum/viewforum.php?f=3