DIYThemes have finally released Thesis 2.0 after what has been nearly three years in the making. The successor to the game-changing WordPress theme framework Thesis has a lot to live up to if it’s going to avoid “sequel syndrome” and while it is early days still I am shedding some light on what I have gathered so far for the sake of my readers and clients.
When Thesis originally launched it had a fundamental advantage over everything that had came before it, simply instead of editing the theme files, you just focussed on two files which were designed to “piggy back” or overwrite the core files on the fly. Enter custom.css (for all design changes CSS) and custom_functions.php (for php and literally anything). This concept meant you backed these files up when you upgraded and then restored them back in the new version of Thesis and meant your site could remain forward compatible regardless of how much you have customized your site. Now that is the very basis of why Thesis is great for developers and people who want forward compatibility but it is not the sole purpose of using Thesis. Thesis also features rocking typography and golden radio implementation in addition to adding a tonne of beautiful fonts from the Google Font API, features the ability to control your “on site” SEO to pure perfection, has hyper fast loading code and lots of other tricks up it’s sleeve.
Enter Thesis 2
Thesis 2 has been built again front scratch making the most of features WordPress has developed into it’s core since Thesis first arrived. The system has a completely new way of customizing and this centres around 3 features inside Thesis 2 which are as follows; Skins (complete thesis design files), (boxes) a way of hooking custom functionality and widgets anywhere you want) and packages (TBC). Using the combination of these 3 areas you should be able to acheive anything you used to achieve with custom.css and custom_functions.php. You can now edit skins from within the dashboard by making use of the Thesis Skin Editor.
What Else is Under The Hood
It is still very much early days but from early inspection Thesis also now offers CSS variables which can drastically reduce load times, there will be a new online library of public and premium skins, boxes and packages to download, install and then customize to your hearts content.
Mark Up Schema – This is possibly one of the most forward thinking features I have seen, for some time I have been using Microformats such as the hreview mark up to tell websites like Google that certain bits of content are reviews, this can then let them present this info in an inviting way on their search results pages, Thesis has added the facility for this natively without requiring a plugin or custom code, and supports other formats like “recipe” also (Great for the foodies).
Even Faster Loading – Thesis traditionally was a fast loading framework anyway, unless of course you customized too much or messily or maybe installed too many plugins, however it could still be improved and that is just what they have done. Less http requests, ONE stylesheet only, a more efficient way to call templates and more makes for some great improvements. This is even more current as since Thesis launched site speed has become a much more important ranking factor with SERPS.
Author Rich Snippets – Another feature I have installed on many of my own and client sites over the past few years is the rel=”author” tag which tells search engines who wrote each specific page or post on the website. This connects your wordpress user account with you Google+ profile and then pulls your name and avatar into the search engine results, a great way to increase click through rate.
Better support for Search Engine Verification and adding Google analytics to the site is also very welcome for the novices which want access to this without having to learn too much about the programming, freeing up time to spend actually analysing your performance data.
What are Others Saying?
I have been keeping a close eye on the DIYThemes forums, Blog, Twitter, and by communicating with some clients and developer colleagues to get an idea of what people think. So far there are very mixed feelings but I think this has little to do with the framework itself but more to do with the fact no one really knows how to use this new beast yet and over the coming weeks I expect the general consensus to neutralize to a more consistently positive conclusion.
Some people are feeling that working inside the dashboard will slow down development time, as a developer and programmer myself I can understand the argument because navigating a wordpress dashboard in your browser to make changes, add functions etc could be tiresome and slow in comparison to pasting your favourite goodies into your code and then tweaking from there and saving over ftp. That said, little has been shared about “Boxes” yet, and my impression is that you will be able to save each function you have in your arsenal as a box which you can then upload to the site and tweak. In addition to that you can use a modified version of the old approach and customize the custom.php file in the skin you are editing via ftp, or as Kristarella has mentioned on the forums you can set the install up to support “child themes”, I am sure Kristarella will do a tutorial on this soon.
On the positive side, the most savy of developers are excited about the possibilities of using skins, boxes and package to create new Thesis websites, boxes means you can rely less on plugins for simple functionality, I’m confident over time the public library of boxes will become pretty impressive, not to mention skins and packages.
When to Upgrade
As this framework is entirely new this question is yet to be properly answered and may take some time. I am expecting to begin offering upgrades from 1 series to 2 series by December/January. This may sound like a bit of a killjoy but there really is a lot of work to be done, documentation to be released/created for users to get the most out of the new version. Thesis 1 series is still a fantastic framework and for sites currently using this we are recommending staying put for the time being, and only new builds considering adopting the version 2 of this awesome framework.
Thesis Legacy Future
DIYThemes have promised to continue to suppport version 1.8.5 and continue with upgrades to ensure it supports WordPress core changes etc but we are not sure if this is indefinitely or for a specific time period at the moment.
I am very excited about what this means for my clients, however in the short run without any documentation it is going to be some time before it can be used to its full or even nearly full potential. Over the next couple of months I expect to see a lot of boxes, packages, and skins released both free ones and premium ones. I am also anxious to get started making some of these myself.