In this issue: Some thoughts on the separation of theme and page builder. My recent deep dive in the WordPress theme directory was prompted by this topic. Also, the latest posts on WebTNG, and some useful links from around the web.
The difference between a theme and a plugin is mostly a semantic one in WordPress. Aside from a few small things, a theme can do anything a plugin can do and vice versa.
Justin Tadlock, WP Tavern
Dynamic WordPress – The Separation of Theme and Page Builder
About the time page builders arrived on the scene the WordPress Theme Team instituted a policy of strict separation between theme and plugin. Extra functionality such as advanced layout, structuring content, and applying advanced designs to content needed to go into a plugin. This kept builder themes out of the WordPress theme directory. There is no doubt that this separation of theme and builder allows for greater interoperability and fewer content silos. However, think about it, it is possible that this separation played a role in the formation of page builders as plugins and how we think of them today.
Oxygen disables the theme and requires you to create theme templates in the Oxygen builder. The first time I tried Oxygen, not having a theme felt wrong. I’ve seen many long-time WordPress users make the same comment and express the feeling that Oxygen didn’t follow the WordPress way of doing things.
It is also possible that this separation between theme and page builder strongly contributed to the rise of the general purpose theme. I recently did a deep dive into the WordPress theme directory and identified the nine most popular themes. The Astra theme, with more than a million active installs, is the number one most popular theme in the WordPress directory. OceanWP with more than 700,000 active installs is number two. GeneratePress with more than 300,000 active installs is number four. Neve is the fifth most popular free theme with more than 200,000 active installs. All four of these are general purpose, page builder friendly themes.
In the last issue of WP Perspectives I wrote about the Bricks theme. Like Divi, Bricks is a theme that includes a builder. It has gotten a lot of attention and recently Justin Tadlock featured Bricks in a post on the WP Tavern. In the article Justin wrote:
“The difference between a theme and a plugin is mostly a semantic one in WordPress. Aside from a few small things, a theme can do anything a plugin can do and vice versa.”
That statement seems to acknowledge that the separation of theme and plugin was more of an administrative decision than a necessary requirement. WordPress.org has theme and plugin directories. How do you handle cross-overs? Don’t allow them. We know that some of the disadvantages of combining themes and builders can be that it limits content portability and it is perhaps easier to redesign a site when theme and builder are separate, but what are the advantages? Michael Edwin, from the Dynamic WordPress Facebook Group, pointed out that when you have the theme and builder combined you don’t need as many plugins, you don’t have to worry about compatibility, and there is less friction and more synergy.
In my deep dive into the WordPress theme directory I found that the Hello Elementor theme, with more than 700,000 active installs, is the third most popular theme on WordPress org. If you hang out in page builder related communities then you know that one of the most frequently asked questions for new users is “what theme should I use with the page builder?” Elementor Pro includes a “theme builder” which replaces the layouts and design that a theme offers. Jokingly we might think that the Hello Elementor theme was created almost as an act of self-defense by the Elementor team to avoid needing to answer the same question a thousand times. Hello Elementor is a very minimalistic theme, almost an anti-theme. The main purpose of the third most popular theme in the WordPress directory is to have it’s functionality replaced by a page builder!
If the decision of the WordPress Theme Team had gone the other way, we may have had the Elementor Builder theme instead of the Elementor plugin. Would it have mattered? These are my thoughts on the separation of theme and page builder. Let me know in the comments what you think.
From Around the Web
What’s Up Next?
I actually wrote a tutorial on Gutenberg and recorded a video training, but I thought it was too long and not good enough to share. So, that project is still on the back burner, though at this point I may as well wait for WordPress 5.8. I also have a few sites that are overdue for a refresh, and that experience often updates my thinking.
Thank you for reading. I’d like to hear what you have to say about the newsletter content and what you are excited about. Feel free to comment or send me an email through the contact form.
May 31, 2021