Gee, there’s a thought…

One of the things that’s frustrated me about a lot of premium WordPress themes I’ve had experience with is that they leave the user hanging.  You see the demo and it looks awesome.  Configurable category displays, a featured content gallery, room for adsense, customizable navigation, even a video embed in the sidebar.  Maybe you even know what themes I’m thinking of.  You say, gee, this theme is swell, sure I’ll shell out $50 for it and make my site look freaking awesome!

You get the theme home, you’ve got a nice blanket and some food laid out for it, and you sit, and you watch, and you wait for it to do tricks.  But the theme. doesn’t. move.

Little did you realize before you purchased the theme that there was all this back-end configuration that needed to be done, possibly even changing some code in some of the actual page templates it came with (you don’t really know what a page template is, but if it ends in .php, it’s not something you want to mess with).

I had a freaking brilliant idea today.  Instead of allowing users to install a theme, broken, on their site, why not tell them how to set it up?  When you bought that new MacBook Pro, got it home, and booted it up for the very first time, it didn’t just drop you at a desktop without any guides or information on how to get started.  No, it probably played a video or had some helpful informational screens that said “here’s where stuff is, here’s what you need to do now, after this is done, you’re all set.”

Digital software — especially software that wasn’t purchased in a box but rather came in a zipped archive — is not the same as the VCR you bought from Circuit City in the 90s that flashed 12:00 constantly until you read the freaking manual and figured out how to set the time.  It’s easy to just ignore instructions, especially when they’re hidden with dozens (if not more) of other files.  You can’t blame people for not wanting to dig through stuff, for just wanting the thing to work when they install it.

That’s always been the approach we’ve taken to our Museum Themes, but it wasn’t until I started working on a theme we had released over a year ago (largely based on some of the same themes described above) with the intent of making the setup process more idiot-proof that the idea hit me: why not tell the user what they need to do after installing?  I believe it will solve a lot of the problems that people had with our 1.x versions, and it’s one of the things that will make this 2.0 version (which I’m planning on releasing later this week) kick ass.  It’s stupidly easy to code, too, just find a variable that’s sort of necessary for the theme to work right and say “if this isn’t set, then this person hasn’t set the theme up yet and gets a welcome screen.”  Rather than making the user go through code to set those category columns, let them set it (and change it whenever they want) in the back-end along with everything else.

In fact, I like the concept so freaking much that I’m going to make it standard across all our Museum Themes.  Right now the theme comes with a readme file, but what if you extracted the zip, uploaded the files, activated the theme and…?  You mean you didn’t read the readme file?  From now on, you’ll extract the zip, upload the files, activate the theme and when you look at your site it will tell you where you need to go and what you need to do, with a handy link to the readme file for setup instructions and a link to the theme options page.

Effing brilliant.  Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?