17 Jan 2020

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WPTavern: Blocksy WordPress Theme Provides a Solid Block-Editor Experience

Screenshot of the Blocksy theme blog posts page.

Creative Themes dropped version 1.6.8 of its Blocksy WordPress theme yesterday. It was an update to a theme that is quickly becoming popular, having garnered 58 five-star reviews and one thousand active installs since it first went live in the WordPress theme directory. The theme is specifically built to work with the block editor and is a nice example of what is currently possible with blocks.

Blocksy is billed as a general-purpose theme and also works with other popular page builders like Elementor, Beaver Builder, and Visual Composer. The truth-test is whether it handles the block editor, especially given its primary audience (it is named Blocksy, after all). Aside from a few trivial quirks, the theme handled nearly every bit of test content I threw at it.

Blocksy is one of the better-designed free themes for the block editor that I have seen.

I want to use this theme for a project. Unfortunately, I have no site to use it on at the moment. I do not say this about many free, repository-hosted WordPress themes. The quality of work is on par with themes from the majority of commercial theme shops I have tested or used over the years.

The theme is not without a few issues, which we'll get to, but it is a solid offering.

Block Design

A few block design examples from the theme.

With a name like Blocksy, I went into this review with a mindset that the theme better handle every test block I dropped into the block editor with grace. I wanted to make sure it lived up to its name.

I am happy to report that it handles block design as good as or better than most themes designed for showcasing the block system. It adds just enough stylistic flair, such as a unique pull-quote design, without getting in the way of the content.

One problem area is the font in the editor does not match the font on the front end completely. This is a minor issue that should be easily fixed in an update.

You can find some good examples of block design on the theme's Gutenberg demo page.

Block Editor Sidebar

Custom block editor sidebar for post meta.

The latest update of the theme includes additional integration with the block editor. The team moved its old meta box, which sat below the post content editor, to a new sidebar panel. This change is refreshing.

I did not know the meta box existed until the theme developers pointed out this change in feature (I first started testing the previous version of the theme). At this point, I never look at the bottom of the block editor for meta boxes. I expect any additional settings to be placed firmly in the right sidebar area. I applaud this move. It could confuse old theme users when updating, but it feels more natural in its new home.

The team has done a nice job with this custom sidebar for the most part. The biggest issue is with the button for switching to it. By using both an icon and the "Page Settings" text, it uses more room than necessary. To fit in line with the existing UI, it should simply display an icon. The button text is also hard to read when selected, which is a minor CSS issue that can be corrected in an update.

Customizer Options

Custom-designed customizer control panel.

For users who like to have full control over the site's display, this theme won't disappoint. For users who dislike by many options, the number of design settings will likely feel overwhelming.

Blocksy has more design options than most people will ever need. Some options, such as letter-spacing and line-height controls for fonts may be going overboard. Ideally, those things would be automatically adjusted based on the chosen font family.

The theme also uses a custom design for the customizer control panel. In general, the custom design looks nice. However, is not good practice for themes to customize a shared WordPress UI element. Plugins with options in the customizer could break. It is best to stick with the default design.

Blocksy Companion Plugin

The theme promotes an additional plugin named Blocksy Companion. The add-on plugin provides users with additional widgets, a cookies-consent feature for the front end, and integrations with Mailchimp, Instagram, and WooCommerce. It also provides an avenue for importing custom-made demo content.

Most of the companion plugin's features are fairly routine compared to similar themes in the WordPress theme repository. The cookies-consent feature is something I haven't seen before as part of a theme add-on plugin.

My biggest complaint with the plugin is that it makes the "Blocksy" admin menu item a top-level item. It is a waste of valuable real estate in an already-cluttered admin menu. Plus, there is no good reason for a single theme/plugin screen to take a top-level spot when it has no sub-menus.

How Does the Code Look?

If I were describing the code in one phrase: average but gets the job done.

The theme has a lot of PHP code. Most of it is dropped into a single /inc folder and not organized nearly as well as it could be. It feels like a giant mish-mash of functions with almost non-existent inline documentation for most of them. It's not something a developer who is not intimately familiar with the theme would want to dive into.

This is not an argument that the theme's code is bad. It passed the official WordPress.org review process and made it into the theme directory, so it is at least doing the minimum necessary. It's simply unimpressive, which is par for the course when it comes to most WordPress themes. Code architecture seems like an afterthought, which could make it tougher to maintain over the long haul. With a theme as much code as this one, this is more important than it is for simpler themes. It can also easily be remedied with a week or so of dev time strictly devoted to architecture.

Final Thoughts

Blocksy is a well-designed theme that does the job it sets out to do. It is ideal for users who are working with the block editor or a third-party page builder. The theme is packed with far more options than I could cover in this review. If customizability is your thing, you will likely enjoy this theme.

The team shared some of their future ideas. They have plans to add conditional headers, footers, and sidebars; a sticky header; AMP support; and more. They seem excited about the future of the theme.

Overall, I would recommend this theme for users who want a clean, relatively fast, block-ready WordPress theme.

17 Jan 2020 9:34pm GMT

16 Jan 2020

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WPTavern: WordCamp Houston Returning After 10 Years

After a 10-year hiatus, WordCamp Houston will return in 2020. The event will run from May 9-10 at the Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake and expects 250-300 attendees. The team behind the Texas-based WordCamp is still in the process of putting the event together and is looking for volunteers, speakers, and sponsors.

With 10 years between events, local organizers had to rebuild their WordPress community. "After WordCamp 2010, the community seemed to have dismantled," said Christina Hawkins, lead organizer for WordCamp Houston. "I can only guess that because it takes an active community and dedicated volunteers, that if any piece starts to have trouble, it becomes challenging to continue," she speculated as to why the original event never continued.

Hawkins began the Sugar Land meetup, located south of Houston but a greater part of the Houston area. The overall area has several regular WordPress meetups. "John Peterson and a few others were instrumental in building the community again," she said. "They were dedicated and made sure we had regular monthly meetings with quality speakers." Currently, they have 12 wranglers who are working to make sure this year's WordCamp runs smoothly.

Considering that Houston is the hometown of Matt Mullenweg, the co-creator of WordPress, it would seem like the city would be the ideal location for an annual WordPress event. He is not involved in the event or currently on the speaker roster, which is still open. Hawkins hopes that he can at least attend the event in an unofficial capacity. "I want to iron out any wrinkles first and present a flawless WordCamp for him," she said. "We expect 2020 to be a WordCamp that knocks it out of the park, but I want to make sure we represent WordPress in the best light and formally invite him as a keynote next year."

WordCamp Houston is currently accepting speaker applications. The process will remain open until February 29. Those who want to speak should submit a topic and plan for a session that lasts 30-40 minutes.

"Heather Baker is our Speaker Wrangler," said Hawkins. "Since this is the first one in years, she has been actively training future speakers. We had an in-person workshop last fall and we are preparing a webinar series soon that will be broken up in chunks."

Thus far, the event organizers have received 29 applications and are expecting more. They will evaluate applications from the first of March and let speakers know if their session is approved on March 15.

The team is still on the hunt for sponsors. "We have the national sponsors, which is very helpful, but we are in the process of getting the word out locally," said Hawkins. "Most of Houston has never heard of WordCamp so it's up to us to start knocking on doors. We have a long list of people and companies that we are reaching out to."

Individuals or businesses who wish to sponsor the event can sign up via the sponsorship page. There are four tiers, ranging from $150 to $3,000, with various perks for each level.

The team chose the Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake venue for this year's event. The location was ideal because it had a good room setup, which could allow them to expand in case they had an increase in attendance. They can also add an extra room if they need to add another speaker track.

"It's also close to NASA which fits our overall theme of 'Taking Off!'" said Hawkins.

The team initially had some trouble finding a venue that met their needs, budget, and location. "Houston is a vast city, and it is not very easy to manage so many people that live all over," said Hawkins. "I am sure other cities like Atlanta, LA, and Chicago have the same problem with having a vast city that can extend to an hour drive in each direction."

16 Jan 2020 7:59pm GMT

Post Status: Introducing a new chapter, with Cory Miller as Post Status partner

I created Post Status in January 2013 and started the Club in January 2015. January 2020 marks another huge milestone for this community and business.

I'm very excited to share that Cory Miller is now an equal partner of Post Status. Cory purchased half the business and will be working with me in the day-to-day management, writing, community engagement, and everything else we do with Post Status.

Many should know Cory from his ten years running iThemes. After they sold the business to Liquid Web and he spent some time there, he decided to step away and continue his entrepreneurial journey. He's working on a few projects, and Post Status is a significant part of where he's dedicating his time and energy.

Cory is a long-time friend, and iThemes has been a Post Status sponsorship partner since 2015. Cory understands the community, the role Post Status plays in the space, and he brings so much to the table, from established community relationships to product and business experience.

We've known one another going back to 2010 or so. I got to watch as he navigated the WordPress space as the CEO of a theme company turned plugin company, from inception to exit.

Cory has so many qualities I admire. Most of all, I admire his honesty, his compassion, his passion for people, and his vision for what's possible. I look forward to working with a true partner on Post Status after so many years of managing the primary responsibilities with much help from many friends and contractors along the way.

In addition to Cory and myself, David Bisset and Dan Knauss continue to be integral parts of the Post Status effort. Cory and I are thankful for their energy, consistency, and talents.

We are working together in Oklahoma City this week to finalize our plans for the 2020 year. We already have a lot planned and are looking to get these new initiatives and processes off to a rocking start.

Potential in the WordPress community

There is so much potential in the WordPress community, and Post Status plays an important role through news, community, and professional development. We are going to continue to do that, and we are also going to make changes that we think will benefit the community as a whole and Post Status Club Members in particular.

If you've ever thought about joining the Post Status Club, it's a great time to do so. At a minimum, anyone in the WordPress community should subscribe to the newsletter. If you've been a member before, we thank you, and we hope we are able to continue to serve you for years to come - better than ever, better together.

We'll be announcing more specific plans over the coming weeks, and doing a video Q&A; with members tomorrow. We'll release part of our conversation to the podcast as well.

Cory's thoughts

I asked Cory to share a couple of his own thoughts on why he's investing in Post Status, both with his money and energy.

I've been a fan and supporter of Post Status since the beginning. At iThemes we were one of Brian's first sponsors. Over the years I leaned on Brian's insights and counsel - personally as well as through Post Status - to inform and grow iThemes.

When Brian approached me about becoming a partner my first reaction was, "Heck yes!" Over our weeks and months of conversations, my excitement grew and grew as our goals and aspirations for Post Status were revealed to be so well aligned.

I truly believe in what Brian has built. And I only want to be a value add and look forward to coming alongside Brian, the Post Status team and this great community.

We're so excited to finally be able to make this official. We look forward to continuing to serve you our readers, our Club members, our partners, and the broader community.

Onward!

16 Jan 2020 1:55pm GMT