The Nesting Instinct
The thing that always strikes me when looking at new Tarski blogs is how different they all are. Everyone sets things up a different way, uses a different combination of header and style, includes different things in their sidebar. People love to personalise their spaces. I call it the nesting instinct.
The nesting instinct is a wonderful thing, because it means that no two sites will ever look exactly the same. We rely on visual differences to distinguish between places as much as we rely on the writing. The fact that the places we’re talking about are websites, not physical spaces, is irrelevant: the same truths apply whether we’re talking about a house or a blog.
Tarski includes a couple of innovative features—such as the constants file—to help people nest. That particular idea came about because I didn’t want to have to add our Mint code in every time we updated the theme (which, back then, was fairly regularly). Essentially,
constants.php allows includes and personalisations to persist across upgrades. Usually, whenever someone hacks a theme to their taste, they then either have to re-hack it when a newer version comes out, or they have to forego the update. With Tarski, they don’t have to.
WordPress Widgets are another good way to create persistent customisation, especially given how similar most themes are in terms of layout. The fact that some of the code is less than wonderful doesn’t mean that the basic idea isn’t great. Our latest release includes widget support, but in some ways, it already did: Tarski comes with a customisable sidebar, with a number of options that you can include or leave out as you desire. Widgets are more flexible, more powerful, more extensible, and are cross-theme rather than limited to one, but nonetheless the basic idea is the same.
As you can no doubt tell, Chris and I are pretty happy with Tarski’s progress. It’s a lot more polished, as well as more feature-rich, than it was when we originally launched it. However, the most important lessons can be learned not from what we did, but why we did it. Theme authors need to consider not just the basics of how the design will work for readers, but how best to empower theme users.
Chris has written a piece very much along the same lines—we were discussing all this the other day—so you should go and read that too.
Last updated 13th Jan 2009