WordPress Themes: Trends From Tumblr
WordPress theme designers are under the same kinds of market pressures that any other seller is under.
How do we sell our themes in a huge, competitive market?
How do we stand out from the hundreds of other themes and developers?
The designers of both paid and free themes have three choices to make. They can either innovate, build upon previous successes, either their own or others’, or they can follow trends.
Sometimes trends are good, or fun, like putting bacon in everything, but nonetheless probably bad for you.
Sometimes trends are just embarrassing, like mood rings or acid-washed jeans. (I’m dating myself.)
Or sometimes trends just make no sense at all.
For instance, someone thought it was a good idea for WordPress themes to masquerade as tumblr themes. This started when, not coincidentally, there was buzz about how big Tumblr was getting — in aggregate among the top 10 sites on the Web. Inevitably, WordPress theme developers and designers were going to respond, and that’s fine as far as it goes. Tumblr tech and aesthetics have influenced WordPress much more than the other way around, at least recently. Ahem.
I remember when WooThemes introduced a few tumblr-inspired WordPress themes. (WPMU has a rundown here.) They were quite nice-looking and I asked the developers in forums (the best support in the business) if it would be possible to create a bookmarklet similar to the one tumblr used. The kick-ass bookmarklet that tumblr users use.
At the time, they said they didn’t know. WordPress already has a Press This bookmarklet with similar functionality. (Raise your hands if you use this. I thought not.) In my tests, however, the tumblr bookmarklet was able to “see” images that the WordPress bookmarklet could not. Tumblr’s bookmarklet also automatically embeds video from YouTube and Vimeo, photos from flickr, automatically scaled, among other supported sites, plus it allows queuing posts, post-dating posts and changing the permalink.
The tumblr bookmarklet is a faster, full-featured way to microblog. Often much faster, and the Quick Press feature on the WP Dashboard is no substitute, either. So if you move from tumblr to WordPress and expect to zip around the Web curating content, you’ll be disappointed.
Further, simply mapping WordPress custom post types to tumblr’s categories of Photo, Text, Chat, Video, Link, and Quote does not mean you’ve replaced tumblr. It means you’ve mimicked it.
(WooThemes has suggested using their migration tool to create an XML file that WordPress understands but it’s often down. It’s down now as I type. WordPress itself offers a Tumblr importer and touted it when it was released.)
More importantly, nothing can replace or mimic the social network one leaves behind when migrating from tumblr to self-hosted WordPress. That may be a trend in itself and probably indicates that those folks attracted to the power of WordPress probably shouldn’t have been on tumblr in the first place.
I migrated a tumblog myself and experienced a 75% drop in traffic and, of course, none of my followers migrated with me. Although my domain remained the same, the tumblr dashboard is really just a feed reader, and the tumblr feed is the one that matters. I was left to build my audience from scratch.
So, I’m not sure that marketing a WordPress theme as a tumblog substitute serves customers very well. I said as much on WooThemes’ forums and the reply was, paraphrased, that the themes were selling really well.
I’ve used several lovely and powerful WooThemes over time, including one that has since been retired, not to migrate a tumblog, but simply to replace a theme I got tired of. I witnessed a threefold increase in pageviews pretty much overnight. It was not because of custom post types but because of a under-hyped left-side navigation menu based on categories. I guess my readers never knew they were there before.