A good, free theme is hard to find
Post Status' Slack space sprouted some conversations this past week worth noting in our #club channel. One, in particular, started about the WordPress.org recommended hosting page and led into this observation about themes, the theme directory, and builder plugins by Matt Mullenweg:
[P]retty much everyone who motivated is able to get a site going and they have a ton of options from decent providers to do so. The wall is after that: themes and the balkanization from non-G[utenberg]-based site builder plugins. The .org theme directory is particularly bad when you compare it to any half-decent commercial theme marketing page, or the designs available on other site building services or Themeforest directories. The .org theme directory rules and update mechanism have driven out creative contributions, it's largely crowded out by upsell motivated contributions.
Next, Joost de Volk commented on the obsolescence of the volunteer model for the .org repositories:
I think that due to the reach a theme or plugin that becomes popular quickly commands, monetization is a necessity to be able to properly “support” such an endeavor. I think the community also “demands” a certain stability and a certain level of support that is simply unfeasible to expect from any non paid contributor. Because WordPress.org has no way of doing that monetization “on platform.”
…Somehow we’re still trying to convince ourselves that we’re “volunteers,” which is simply not true. In almost all cases, companies are “volunteering” their employees to work on stuff. Whether that’s plugins, themes or WordPress core. There are absolutely still a lot of people that are volunteering time, and those people are a very important aspect of our community that we should make sure not to lose, but without paid contributors, no release would ever happen.
Finally, Eric Karkovack noted it's “hard to find an actual ‘free' theme that isn't just a locked-down version of something premium in the .org directory.” He agreed with Joost that the volunteer model “is very much outdated,” and he thinks “a new user would be overwhelmed by choice and disappointed in what they find.”
There's no doubt there is room for improvement in the theme directory, and some movement is being discussed and pressed forward in at least one respect — better theme previews. But at the end of the day, finding quality themes in the theme directory can be challenging, and we need to think about the underlying motives that bring people there. As Matt says, the directory could provide a better experience for contributors — and also theme creators and vendors. 🎨