Earlier this week I announced that I had launched MackCollier.com, and I did so on Wordpress using Thesis as the template. I know a lot of you are thinking about launching or relaunching your blog, and may be considering Thesis, so I wanted to share my initial thoughts on the template.
Pros: Insane amount of customization is possible, and most of the major changes can be made with a few mouse clicks, instead of changing/editing code.
Cons: NOT for the beginner. If looking at template code scares you, you'll never get the full affect from using Thesis. Plus, it costs $87.
Bottom line: If you are comfortable tweaking your blog's code, or willing to learn, Thesis holds incredible potential for your blog as its template.
I've been wanting to relaunch The Viral Garden, and launch MackCollier.com for a while now, and I knew I wanted to have both be on WordPress when I did. Initially, I was thinking that I would wait till later in the year when I had time and hire someone to design a super snazzy template for me. But when I heard about Thesis, I really became intrigued because it apparently simplified much of the coding process, and since I knew a bit from tinkering with the template here (and wanted to learn more), I decided to go with Thesis.
And let me say up front that I think this is where the first misconception about Thesis (at least for me) comes into play. I think Thesis is viewed by many as the template that makes the process of designing your blog MUCH easier. I think it would be more accurate to say that it flattens the TOP of the learning curve when it comes to tinkering with your blog's template. But if you are a complete newbie when it comes to changing/editing a blog template, Thesis will still seem like you are dealing with Egyptian hieroglyphics at first. I remember reading the forums about getting Thesis set up on my blog (can't remember the snag I was hitting), and I saw a reply from someone that had just bought Thesis and they said 'I bought Thesis thinking it was supposed to make everything easier. It shouldn't be this hard'. I completely knew what he meant.
But if you want to quickly and easily set up a very basic blog layout, Thesis is a gem. Look at this screenshot:
It might be a bit hard to see, but that's the Thesis Design dashboard, and with a few clicks, you can change not only the size of each of your blog's columns, but even change the NUMBER and ORDER of your columns! Want 2 columns with the content column on the right? No problem. What about three columns with the content column in the middle with a width of 500 pixels with the sidebars having a width of 250 pixels? Piece of cake. This is probably the biggest area that most people want to customize when it comes to their blog's layout, and Thesis gives you the ability to change and define this in literally seconds. This alone probably makes Thesis worth the $87.
Another area that many people want to change is adding widgets to their blog. We all want to stick our Twitter and Friendfeed and MyBlogLog, etc widgets on the sides, right? Thankfully, Thesis also makes this painfully easy.
Thesis has several 'pre-loaded' widgets available for you to choose from, such as Archives, Recent Comments, Tag Cloud, etc. It also gives you the ability to add your own by adding a Text widget, then putting in the HTML code you get from Twitter or MyBlogLog or whatever site you want to add the widget for. Just pop that code in the text widget box, click Done, click Save Changes and there you go! You can also choose which sidebar you want to put the widget on, and in which order you want to have the widgets. Again, this is painfully simple.
The other area of MackCollier.com that I wanted to change was to add a header image, and this is where the trouble started. Unfortunately, this process was far more demanding than changing the layout and adding widgets. I went to the forums for some answers, and struggled to find a decent solution. And in reading the forums it becomes obvious that Thesis is geared toward the more advanced blogger. I guess that's assumed since you have to pay $87 to get the thing. But I think it can be a bit intimidating for the beginner. Here's an example of what I am talking about. I was scanning the archives for a problem I was having on getting Thesis set up, and found this solution from a member:
"Hey this is an easy problem to fix! All you have to do is edit your custom.css file, add in this code, save it and re-upload it, and you're good to go!"
Now this response makes several assumptions:
1 - That I know what my custom.css file is and where to find it
2 - That I know HOW to edit my custom.css file
3 - That I know how to add the code and re-upload it
By now, I know all of these steps, but at first I was totally clueless and had to do some serious studying. But if you are used to using Thesis, solutions like this will make total sense, but will confuse the hell outta you if you are new to tinkering with your blog's template, and Thesis. But on the whole, the forum has been very helpful to me, and all the members seem very nice and willing to help out. Even if some of them make the mistake of assuming that I'm not an idiot when it comes to some of this stuff ;)
BTW I finally figured out my header issue, this site has the answer I needed, just find out the EXACT URL for your header pic on your server, and put it in parantheses where it says YOUR_ABSOLUTE_PATH, and add the code to your custom.css file. Yeah, it sounds like French now, but if you get Thesis and start tinkering with it, you'll get it!
And this comes back to the ultimate question: Should you buy Thesis? It really depends on:
1 - How comfortable you are with editing and changing your blog's template and files associated with your blog's template, and
2 - If you are willing to learn how to do this tinkering, if you don't already know how.
I am more in the camp of I don't know that much about HOW to tinker, but I want to learn. For myself personally to improve the look and functionality of MackCollier.com and this blog, but also professionally, so I can help blog consulting clients with their blog's design.
If you want a no-frills blog template that looks decent that you never want to mess with, you can probably get what you need from a free template and be completely happy. But if you like to customize your blog's design and keep the functionality up to date with what your readers want, Thesis is perfect for you. And I haven't even gotten into Thesis Hooks, which hold incredible customization potential by allowing you to add in functional elements at different locations on your blog. Here's an example of a gorgeous blog/site that's running on Thesis. That's definitely over my head, but it shows the potential that Thesis offers, and that's a big reason why I wanted to get the template and learn how to tap into its potential.
My advice is to get Thesis. Sure it costs $87 and you'll also have to pay the associated hosting fees, but in the end it's worth it IMO to be able to customize your blog to the level that Thesis allows. And you also get updates for free as each new version of Thesis comes out. I'll likely be updating this entry later on as I become more comfortable with Thesis, but I wanted to give you my initial impressions as someone that's only been using Thesis for a week or two.
If you're using Thesis on your blog, what do you think about it, and what would you tell someone that's considering getting it?