WordPress seems to be moving towards a very nice 1.6 release, and I’ve started getting inquiries from people who would like me to run another theme competition when version 1.61 is released (likely sometime in early 2006). I think it would be fantastic to have another WordPress theme competition, but I’m not completely sure I’m the right person to host it.
The WP Style Competition (the first competition I hosted) was a rather straightforward affair. People submitted their CSS, I posted it on my site, judges voted – no big deal. The WP Theme Competition (the competition I hosted this year), was an entirely different deal. I’ve detailed this previously, so I won’t rehash it here. However, I would be remiss if I didn’t take that experience into account when trying to make a decision about hosting a competition next year.
In the first competition, there were 39 entries; in last year’s competition there were 135 entries – this was largely due to the growth of WordPress between the two competitions. In the past year, I believe WordPress has grown even more than it did during the previous year… how many entries should I expect in a competition next year? Any answer would be a guess, but I think that 200-250 wouldn’t be an unreasonable expectation.
One of the new features coming in WP 1.6 is a standardized way for themes to include their own custom functionality. I think people could do fantastic things with totally new presentation styles, maybe a litte AJAX goodness sprinkled in, etc. Unfortunately, all of this also brings with it another increase in the amount of time it takes to review each theme.
My position for the last competition is that if I am hosting the competition, and I’m making the themes available for download from my site, then I have a responsibility to make sure each theme doesn’t do anything malicious or stupid that could have negative consequences for WP users that download the themes. Also, since I’m putting the themes on my server – I have a vested interest in making sure they are “safe”.
As a result, I spent ~30 minutes reviewing and posting each theme. With the additional functionality coming in 1.6, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect that to grow to ~45 minutes/theme.
Since all of this is guestimated anyway, a realistic ballpark for time spent reviewing themes in the next competition is probably 150-250 hours. Add another good chunk of time publicising the competition, corresponding with sponsors and participants, answering questions, etc, and we’re looking at ~300 hours – rather conservatively.
As much as I’d like to, I know that I won’t be able to donate that much time to running a competition. So let’s look at some possible solutions.
Reduce the number of entries, which will reduce the amount of time needed for review. In the past, I’ve encouraged people to entry early and enter often. This doesn’t always translate to “quality” submissions – in fact I’ve read people’s blog posts lamenting that they think many of the themes are not up to snuff.
There are a few ways to accomplish this, one is to put a cap on submissions per person (perhaps a 2 entries per person limit). This should have a side effect of improving the quality of the entries as well, as people will need to submit their best 2 themes. However I think this would only make a small dent in the overall number of entries.
While Eric was in town last month, we talked a bit about hosting competitions. Eric is in the midst of hosting a big photo competition right now and we talked over a number of ideas. One of which was to charge an entry fee, maybe $10-15, per submission.
At first, I really didn’t like this idea – in the first competitions I worked hard to have as few barriers to entry as possible. Adding an entry fee flies right in the face of that. However, after thinking it over, I think that it makes a certain amount of sense.
Again it would likely reduce the overall number of entries, but result in a higher percentage of quality entries. I bet that we could even get a few sponsors to put up the entry fees for those who might have need assistance. Of course we’d have to have some great prizes as incentives to make the entry fee seem worthwhile for the participants. That brings us to our second option.
- Bring in some money to pay for my time. There is no way I would expect to make my normal consulting rate, or even half of it – but even a quarter or a third of it would ceratinly help free up time to manage the compatition and review entries. In addition to the entry fees, I could also take a percentage of the prize money as a “hosting” fee (as suggested by several folks), and perhaps find some corporate sponsors as well.
- Get help reviewing the themes. I’m skeptical as to how much help I would be able to recruit, particularly since there are currently 47 themes that need testing on the themes page right now. However, if I could get a couple of competent and reliable reviewers, it would be a wonderful.
- Find someone else to run the competition. Perhaps the options mentioned above will fall short of allowing me (financially) to run the competition and/or people feel that charging an entry fee and/or diverting a percentage of the prize money is totally unacceptable. In that case, it may be best to hand the reins over to someone who has more free time and can manage the competition the same way I’ve run it for the last few years. I don’t believe this is the best option, but I’m also not so arrogant as to think I’m an indespensible part of this. 🙂
In the end, the best solution is likely a combination of all of these ideas. I wanted to get the conversation started early so there would be plenty of time to find a system we think would work.
The comments are open, I welcome your throughts and feedback.
- And the competition would allow people to utilize the new functionality in 1.6 in their themes. [back]
Well, if your looking for people to help review themes, count me in. I definitely donate my time to help 🙂
In addition, I think it would work well to screen themes for questionable functions. calls to functions like fopen/fsockopen/file_get_contents/file_put_contents probably should be looked at more closely than other functions.
I’ve got 47 themes that need reviewing right now if you want to help. 🙂
I’d rather not get into details of what a review needs to cover here – but the list is quite a bit larger than that.
I feel that putting a quota on the number of themes a person can submit may not be the best solution. Often, when a person designs something, a few inspirations might come to him/her. Restricting the number of entries seems to me like constricting a person’s creativity and this may not lead to a vast improvement in the quality of the standard, which I assume is what most WP users want.
The nature of designs is that they are subjective. While it may be pleasing to one, it may actually look horrible to another. A personal yardstick is used when one actually judges a theme. Henceforth, I feel that enlisting the help of others to review the themes may be a better way out.
I would be glad to assist you in any way:)
Until I see people actually pitching in to review the themes we have that need review already, I’m going to be fairly skeptical about how much that will help.
I think a smaller cap on submissions would be better, or maybe even have a one or two day allowance for submissions. That would give people plenty of time to work on some, let them pick their best one(s) and submit them then. Close the competition and then judge them.
It kinda solves the problem of having people make a theme, then have another idea, and just keep submitting more and more, atleast in theory.
This weekend, after I finish up a few projects I will review as many of the untested themes as I can for you.
I would definitely like to see a new competition, I wasn’t able to enter the last, but would definitely enter this one. I will support it anyway I can… Whether it be participating, donating, reviewing, or whatever. I got your back, you’ve had mine with all the help I have gotten from your blog here and your other posts around the web.
I have two alternative suggestions. You’re a software developer, so why not create software to fix these problems? It’s a lot more fun and could have other applications outside of the theme contest.
1.) What if you created an “automagic theme reviewer” which would handle the bulk of the review tasks? Ideally it could walk through the PHP code looking for certain function calls, and it could run the script in a sandboxed Apache to ensure it’s not taking up an extraordinary amount of resources. This would take a bit of time, but probably far less than manually reviewing all the code. (Profit opportunity: sell to shared-server hosting companies?)
2.) Alternatively, what if you set up Apache to run each theme in some kind of private sandboxed environment, basically like a chroot jail? Then you could post themes without worrying about their impact on your server. This would require you to give up on any kind of “guarantee” that the themes aren’t harmful, which may run counter to your professional ethics and standards. But it may be the easiest way to protect your server.
Unfortunately, in this case, “easiest” is quite a relative term. The more I think about it, it’s *crazy* to let the general public run arbitrary PHP code on your box! 😉
yeah, hosting something like that must be a huge undertaking for you. i can only imagine. i would love to see it happen somewhere at least though. especially since there are people pushing wordpress themes in totally different directions now than a few months ago – in terms of a more magazine style format like ordered list’s front page, or thought mechanics, combined with people pushing wordpress into more of a custom CMS direction as well. seems like that (CMS) would be absolutely fantastic as a competition as well on its own
I think it would be cool to have an admin interface category too.
Well first I think you need to say what the goal of the competition is. Is it to get the most GPL themes out there as possible? Is it to organize the best themes out of a large pool? Is it to provide hosting and a directory of themes? There are projects like themes.wordpress.net addressing some of what you’re doing already, so maybe you should laser in on the goal and focus, then I’m sure the community (and myself) will be happy to help you reach that.
The goal is to encourage people make cool themes for WP. The reasoning for having a competition after each major release is to allow the themes to utilize and show off the new features in WP. Quantity was important in the earlier competitions, but with the popularity growth of WP, we’ll have a ton of entries no matter what. 🙂
Displaying and hosting the themes is secondary – however I believe it is certainly my job to provide a good way for people to view the competition entries.
WordPress Themes and the Money Alex Needs
Alex King started the WordPress Theme Competition idea awhile back and it spurred a lot of creativity and countless Themes that people can now download (for free) and install on their WordPress blogs. Problem with grassroots ideas like this one is t…
– Could you make your competition more of an intermediary where you just point out to submitted entries? Rather than review everything and host it, etc.
– I actually like the idea of an entry fee. It forces an entrant into a committment. If it isn’t worth $5 or $10 to them to submit, then is it worth 1 hour of your time to review, publish, host, manage, etc.? Not only would that cut down on submittals, it would probably raise quality, and the entry fee could be split between yourself and/or a prize pool.
Without doing the reviews, I can’t make the themes browsable – people would have to download them and install them (and remember they aren’t reviewed and “safe” yet) to see what they do.
A good theme like Blix didn’t need a competition to become popular.
The points you have raised Alex are very valid.
I’m not sure of how many judges you had in the last contest, however a good idea will be to have atleast 5-10 judges for the same, who will help screen entries.
Additionally, I wouldn’t mind helping out in reviewing the themes that you have on the themes page. However, please point me to some guidelines on the same.
You should have another WP theme competition, but for Admin Theming now.
your theme competition helped make wordpress a more beautiful place. I must have visited this site three times a day!
Entry fees, man. There’s inherent risk in these themes, as you note, and these would be getting the AK seal of approval. Since you have a good reputation, people will fear using them less because there’s no concern about malicious developers looking to hose people over with this.
Again I say … entry fees. Use part of the fee to come up with a prize pool. Rely on the same folks who’ve supported the prize pool in the past for the rest; those who have supported it before are likely to do so again.
I agree with Matt.
Point to the theme designer. If you want a preview make theme create a preview. That way you won’t have to worry about reviewing the code and updates; which are a huge problem because my theme has been updated 4 times since.
Entry fees are a good idea, you wont get 5 themes from the same guy with different color headers.
Otherwise, host it yourself, like you’ve been doing but require that the theme entrent needs to review 3 random themes from others. Just a suggestion.
How about setting requirements on the content that a theme must display as a minimum and have people host their entries on their own site where they can be reviewed for asthetics and functionality.
Then once judging is complete the winning themes could have their PHP reviewed to judge whether it is safe or not, if it isn’t they get a chance to fix it within a set time period and if they can’t do it then they get bumped off the winning list.
That removes a lot of the time needed to review the majority of the themes and also removes the need to host the themes, heck you could even go so far as having a database of posts, comments, links etc that needs to be used for their demo.
If money is the issue, what about some sort of “ransoming” for entries? The only ones that get considered will be the ones that achieve some popularity. Of course, the developers could pay the ransom, but it would give those without the ability to pay at least a chance to have someone champion their work.
That’s a good idea Jason, but my experience has been that many folks have a tendancy to submit themes that work on their site, but don’t work on a vanilla WP install (or have hard coded links to their pages, etc.). I think the only way it would work is if people had to do a brand new WP install to show off their theme – which might be too much to ask.
Michael, money is partly the issue as a side effect of the time involved. As someone who is self-employed, I’d have to be turning down paying work to run the competition.
Craig Hartel posted his thoughts here.
Good ideas Craig, I think some of those would make excellent prize categories.
I would like to strongly echo Craig’s suggestion. I think that this next contest should push the limits of what can be accomplished with WordPress.
If you do another theme competition, REQUIRE SCREENSHOTS!
The theme viewer is nice, but I don’t want to view each theme individually. There needs to be screenshots of each theme, put into a thumbnail gallery setup, so we can quickly browse the hundreds of submissions.
So again, Require Screenshots of each theme!
Alex King asks, “Should I Host Another WordPress Theme Competition?”
So with the impending release of WP 1.6, Alex King ponders the pluses and minuses of hosting another theme contest, and asked for opinions. So as someone who came along WP as he was starting his second contest, may I add that the primary thing I rem…
To make things easier (and reduce the % of bad designs), just add “must validate” to the specifications.
For review, choose a few designers who won’t participate in the competition and have them skim through the templates to reduce the time needed for each individual.
Also, you could post a paypal account for ppl to donate as well as google ads (won’t help too much, but a little at least).
If you posted the requirements for reviewers, standards how to review templates, imho more people would sign up for helping in the process.
If you would like help in a review/bug hunting process. I’d kick in some labour. We have 3-4 themes based on our Pointillist Press MU Site we are working on for entry.
Variations on a theme.(to make the bug checking simpler)
Disk space is available as well.
Do whatever it takes to hold another competitiion! lol So many people enjoy submitting, and the rest of us really benefit as well. I’m sure lots of us would be willing to pitch in.
I like the idea of n entry fee is great, may only the most beautiful and worthwhile themes win eh?
A small entry fee does not seem unreasonable to me.
Definitely hold another competition, but do so with entry fees. One entry, $10, two entries $15. Something like that. That will cut back on a lot of the inferior submissions (and YES there are a lot of crappy, malfunctioning designs out there) and refine the competition to people who really know what they are doing and are proud to show off their work. Run the competition like an art exhibition. It’s very much the same thing.
A small entry fee is perfectly fine.
Pay for your time and also could pay for the prizes.
The use of corporate sponsors is another great idea and could be a milestone for WordPress. You would need time for that though.
I can see money beeing made, at least it could go toward future devlopments.
If you need help, I am not a major wiz, but I would be more than happy to donate my time.
Assuming I’m trying to get 50% of my time paid for, an $10-15 entry fee would likely cover 33-50% of the cost associated with each entry. In other words – it’s a step in the right direction, but not a silver bullet.
An entry fee sounds fine. But have a ‘free-for-all’ day sometime in the middle of the competition so that those unable to afford the fee can submit theirs on that day 🙂
I think the problem with this is that the new K2 theme is currently the king, and as such I can’t think of anyone else winning!
K2 is but one example of what is possible with WP. It’s not even using version 1.6 to do what it does, so I wouldn’t quite be ready to declare it a winner anyway. Besides, K2 has been a lot of work for Michael and Chris and the work is not complete.
After unsuccessfully trying to get a Flickr-API-based plugin to work tonight, I’m all for a photo-site competition. I can’t believe how hard it is to get an image blog up and running with WordPress.
I’d be willing to help review. I’m not that strong on code, but I can review design-wise, if that would be any help. Also, I could let you know when some functionality is borked, that kind of thing.
Will this include style-sheet designs that use binarybonsai’s k2 theme?
I don’t think an entry fee would be that bad idea, as its been said beofre it would make people really think about committing to submitting an entry. The one downside would be younger users who may wish to participate, and who may show real talent being excluded
I would wholeheartedly love to see another competition. I most likely wouldn’t submit a theme myself, but I as a user saw the benefit of the creative synergy that happened from your last one.
Please, yes! Another competition!
I am new to blogging and to WordPress, and have learnt so much from the theme competition!
Hey i am planning to run the theme competition with some very new and unique ideas. can i have your theme switcher script to use it on my site. i am also intrested in reviewers. the site is going to be launched in april i believe…
I already have a competition planned and have several prize sponsors.. It will be run on the theme viewer ..
no. i dont think another theme competition is needed.
I’ll also be happy to give a hand, Alex. Be it with reviewing, sharing bandwidth, you name it!
A new competition is needful, but to charge a fee for free themes? I’m, sceptical about this, cause most of the themes are licensed under the GPU. The list of Craig might be helpful to organize the competition.
This post is nearly a year old, why is it getting so many comments this week?
This post has suddenly shown up in the WP Dashboard which has sparked the renewed interest. I got a comment on my blog from this as well.
Isn’t this a bit old? WP 1.6? 🙂
Well, as a means of reducing the number of themes being submitted as a problem – and perhpas as a way of making it more pragmatic – maybe make it a “building your own theme tutorial” competition, which would walk someone through building their own theme through the creation of whatever theme is being submitted. Would be a nice way to combine great new themes with a guide for learning some basic WP functions and CSS (granted, I know there are already several walkthroughs out there of each, but still, it’s not like there isn’t going to be a use for them). Just my two.
I think definitely yes! It gives some of us a chance to show our creative sides 🙂
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