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A survey of silly sidebar issues

  1. Hi folks:
    In the process of trying to get situated with respect to theme choices, I decided to step back and spend some time looking into issues with the CSS for sidebars and widgets. So I surveyed all the themes having flexible width and two columns. As it happens, 84% of them have problems that are significant visual distractions that seem unintended.

    If you're interested, take a look at:
    http://grahamwideman.wordpress.com/2009/01/17/sidebar-style-silliness-survey/

    For all I know, this may merit a "yeah, they're workin' on it" or "send this to the QA interest group".

    If not, then perhaps it prompts some productive ideas on how to raise the base level quality of the off-the-shelf themes, in the area of freedom from rough edges that are easy to fix upstream for the benefit of all.

    Thoughts?

  2. Interesting! Just so you know, themes are almost never changed after they have been made available. Occasionally a second version of a theme is added (The Journalist, Sandbox). But it's a good thought for future theme-makers.

  3. > themes are almost never changed
    Yes revisions obviously present an issue. If a theme were to be changed after it was already adopted, then the changes might surprise existing users.

    That said, having a lot of friction for revisions means WP.com misses out on iterative refinement (along with us too!). It would be encouraging if there were more in the way of successive theme versions. (But is there even a mechanism for proposing such improvements and getting that feedback to the theme devs?)

    A second interest in such refinement is the situation where taglines are missing from many themes (notably most of the flex-width, 2-col themes). Now that's a case where WP could create a revision that includes the html for the tagline at a sensible position in the code, but then default it to hidden (via theme option or CSS) with option to show.

  4. <i>Yes revisions obviously present an issue. If a theme were to be changed after it was already adopted, then the changes might surprise existing users.</i>

    Exactly. What one person sees as a bug is another person's pleasing quirk. I think the only way of getting suggestions back to the theme developers is to try and contact them directly through whatever contact information is provided within the theme. You could report it to WP staff too, but they are unlikely to be able to do anything.

    There is a workaround for adding taglines using CSS. I'll see if I can find the link.

  5. Here. You'll need to scroll down a bit.

    But I agree it's not the neatest solution, and it does require the paid upgrade.

  6. I could have sworn that I saw a way to put the tagline in without CSS (other than by putting it in a text widget at the top of the sidebar) but perhaps I was misstaken.

  7. I don't think I've seen any other way, Vivian.

  8. whenpandasattack
    Member

    I'm sure there are many other "quirks" that could be added to this list. The one that is most puzzling to me is the theme that allows a custom image but ends up with a big black vertical stripe breaking that image into two unequal parts (even though the theme's original image doesn't have this stripe over it). I can't recall which one it is, but it's dark.

    As for taglines, I think an option to show them or not would be great (and probably easy to implement without breaking anyone's existing blog by setting the user's initial setting based chosen theme's current behaviour).

  9. You're probably talking about Chaotic Soul, but it does have the black bar with the original header - at least for the 2 years I've been here. Perhaps you just didn't notice it because the image has dark elements near the center.

  10. WordPress.COM's desire to release the theme the way the theme designer made it is the key to understanding why some of these issues - such as taglines - exist. But I have found them to be willing to make changes to themes when there is an error. The OP's list seems to me to be errors in the coding and as such, if I were the OP, I'd send that information to support and ask it to be fixed.

  11. vivian: Yes I had seen threads on techniques for getting a tagline to appear, but they seem to involve either CSS pseudo elements (:before or :after) that not all browsers support, or insertion of html via a text widget, where positioning may not suit all types of page. In this thread...
    http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/add-tagline-to-rubric?replies=26#post-151293
    ... it seemed like you settled on making the tagline part of the header image... was that your final answer?

  12. ... or insertion of html via a text widget, where positioning may not suit all types of page.

    Would you please elaborate more on this or give an example where it wouldn't suit the theme?

  13. I'm interested to hear more of how the themes come to be created and adopted, and perhaps revised, for wordpress.COM. Are these primarily themes that have been adopted from a pool of themes available for use with regular WordPress? Is wordpress.com mostly relying on original theme authors for continued dev, or is there a distinct in-house fork of those themes? Or perhaps it's all kind of ad hoc?

    For regular WordPress, theme devs might well expect users to be free to make customizations in either the php or the css, so aren't necessarily obliged to expose all useful data as html (for example taglines). This would be less suited to WP.com's CSS-only customizability.

  14. As far as I know the themes used in wp.com are GPL, that's why the wp staff can adapt them to work for the mu platform. For your other questions, such as "how the themes come to be created and adopted", I believe someone from staff would be more qualified to give you an answer.

    Now, I asked why you think positioning may not suit all types of page because then I would probably give you a more informed opinion. I believe, however, that positioning shouldn't be an issue since, obviously, the user would play with the text-widget values to suit their needs.

  15. >Would you please elaborate more
    I was inferring that from the discussion I pointed to.
    http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/add-tagline-to-rubric

    You wrote:
    > This cannot be fixed using CSS only because the single post
    > page source code is messed up. The only way to fix it would
    > be modifying the source code of the template itself.
    [...etc...]

    ... where you put considerable effort into getting to the bottom of the problem. I now see that perhaps this precipitated correction of that theme's code, so maybe it's fixed in that case.

    Regardless, between themes, and between the different page types (eg: front page vs individual past, with/without various options) there is understandably variation in the html output and thus in the specifics of addressing the elements relative to which one needs to place the tagline.

    So, the insertion of tagline using text widget is a trick that has some chance of being sufficient in specific cases, but in advance one doesn't know that it will work, and whether a request to support will be needed to get some minor code anomaly fixed. Ie: when a user's at the point of comparing themes, including ones that lack taglines, they don't know whether activating a tagline is going to be easy, hard or impossible.

    It's a lot less robust and fiddle-free than simply having themes consistently output the tagline in a predictable unambiguous way, with a simple option to show/hide, possibly via CSS.

    That said, I'm not the one to set priorities around here, for sure. Just commenting on what seem like relatively easy-to-address issues that make adoption easier, users happier, reduces support issues etc etc.

  16. ... or maybe I should just try the Text Widget method and get over it :-).

  17. You wrote:
    > This cannot be fixed using CSS only because the single post
    > page source code is messed up. The only way to fix it would
    > be modifying the source code of the template itself.
    [...etc...]

    ... where you put considerable effort into getting to the bottom of the problem. I now see that perhaps this precipitated correction of that theme's code, so maybe it's fixed in that case.

    Yes, it was fixed. devblog was helping me with The Journalist theme. And because of his great skills, he was able to isolate the problem, which I then forwarded to support and they fixed it. That was what I was thinking about when I wrote that errors in themes are fixed.

    You are not going to convince the tech support folks to put a tagline in a theme that wasn't in it originally. So yes, the text widget method is your best bet.

  18. Ah -- thanks vivian for filling in that extra piece.

  19. Thanks for elaborating more. Yeah, in the same thread, Vivian contacted support and they fixed the problem.

    I believe you make some valid points. It's true that adding a tagline like that may be sufficient or will make a bug in the code to come up; but as users we 'have to trust' that staff ported the theme correctly, and tested it thoroughly before rolling it to production, but we won't know till we try adding a 'feature' the theme lacks, such as a tagline.

    To finish my comment, I believe that your idea of giving the user the option to have, or not, a tagline is a good one. It'd would be more user friendly than creating a text widget and position it using CSS.

  20. slow much? I need to type faster...

  21. devblog, I've looked into the Text Widget tagline method a little more, and I think it hits a snag on the example I'm using. But we're a bit off topic at this point so I'll start another thread.

  22. @devblog: I've tried the text-widget/position-absolute trick for a tagline; works in some themes, doesn't in others.

    @whenpandasattack ("As for taglines, I think an option to show them or not would be great"): Are you referring to particular themes or not? Some themes do have that option. I can give you the list, if it's any use.

  23. panaghiotisadam,

    Yes, Rubric is one of them. It has to do on how they're originally styled.

    I'm giving a bit more detail here:

    http://en.forums.wordpress.com/topic/tagline-via-text-widget-revisited?replies=6

  24. @devblog: Yeah, now I know you know - saw and read the new thread on that just after I posted the above...

  25. whenpandasattack
    Member

    @panaghiotisadam: I've really only looked at themes where the header image can be replaced, but the only option I've seen for taglines is to either have one or leave it blank. Other themes simply don't seem to show taglines at all. I haven't looked into devblog's text widget solution.

    I admit to only skimming those discussions, but should I take it that some CSS can be injected into themes via a text widget (without having the CSS option), or did I misunderstand?

  26. @whenpandasattack: I can't answer your question - that's one for devblog. As for your first paragraph, no, there are several themes in which you get an option to hide the blog title and the tagline.

  27. >whenpandasattack: should I take it that some CSS can be injected into themes via a text widget (without having the CSS option)

    In an html page, a style block can be placed in the body section. Since a Text widget places code into the body section, your reasoning makes sense. However, on trying this out, I see that WP strips out the style tags from a Text widget.

    Bottom line... if you want to have control over CSS it looks like you need the CSS upgrade.

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