Themeisle Debacle Shows The Risks Of Depending On Someone Else’s Platform

ThemeisleDevelopers often depend on third-party platforms for distribution of their products and access to the platform’s users. Developers are also often unwilling to stick to the platform’s rules if they think the rules stop them creating the experiences they want to give users.

Zerif Lite, a WordPress theme by Themeisle with over 300, 000 users was recently suspended from the WordPress Theme Repository for multiple violations of the repository’s rules. All of those users are now unable to update their theme.

Zerif Lite’s developers didn’t do anything dishonest, but they broke rules intended to protect WordPress users. You can see a full list of transgressions here, but the one that generated the most discussion is the use of pseudo-custom post types.

WordPress provides custom post types for creating content types in addition to those bundled with the content management system. Zerif Lite’s developers chose not to use that mechanism for features like its client, team member, and testimonials widgets. Instead, they implemented pseudo-custom post types. The problem is that this feature locks users into the theme. If they uninstall the theme, users lose all the content they added to those widgets.

The WordPress repo rules insist that this sort of feature is built as a plugin, so that users can transition between themes without losing data. Zite’s developers had a choice: fix the theme so that it conformed to the rules, which would have broken the home pages of hundreds of thousands of sites, or be suspended from the repository. Rather than inconvenience users, they chose the suspension as the lesser of two evils.

Conforming to rules you consider arbitrary or plain wrong is an unfortunate risk whenever you build a business on someone else’s platform. The only real solution is to take full control of your business and host your own products, but then you lose the advantage of being part of the platform.

ThemeIsle’s situation is analogous to a publisher who depends on Google traffic being caught engaged in shady SEO practices, or a business that depends on Facebook traffic breaking Facebook’s terms of service. It’s an unfortunate reality, but whatever the benefits of large platforms, there are substantial downsides because the platform-owners incentives may not line up well with your own.

The urge to break rules that limit your freedom as a developer is understandable, and in some cases it’s admirable, but when your business and its reputation depend on someone else’s platform, you should make sure you know what the rules are.

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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