WordPress gives its bloggers a wide variety of themes to choose from, one of the many features that led me to blog here. There’s a great range of free themes, and we have some options for personalizing them. If we’re willing to shell out some money, we can purchase premium themes with more options to make our blogs “stand out from the crowd” and be “more exclusive.” We can spend more money and further customize our themes with CSS.
Themes are a great way for us to express our individuality and personality in a visual manner. But there’s a change in the air.
When viewed on anything other than a “regular” computer, most of that personalization is stripped away. Consider the view below of both my blog and Carrie Rubin’s The Write Transition as seen on a laptop using Mozilla Firefox and visiting the actual posts—not using WordPress’s Reader. My blog uses the Able Theme, and I’ve purchased the CSS upgrade that lets me do some customizing. Here, that’s limited to fonts that aren’t available on the free versions. Carrie Rubin is using Watson, a premium theme. Note that my “widgets” show up on my post pages. The Watson theme shows widgets only on the home page, so you don’t see Carrie’s in the post in the example below.
Yes, there’s a lot of “empty” space. But that’s only because I zoomed out to include as much of the posts text and images as possible in the illustration. When viewed as originally intended—when everyone used a computer, whether desktop or laptop, to read blogs—everyone would see the themes as we laid them out. We had a lot of room that could be filled with text, images, and cool little gizmos called widgets. Themes still give us the options for multiple columns filled with widgets of all types. Personalized color schemes, layouts, menus, and images are easily seen when visiting the “real” site. Both my menu and Carrie’s are easily accessible under our headers. Here we have links to content beyond our blog posts that we want to share with readers.
Times change, of course, and now humans are fascinated with mobile computers, or “devices” as we’ve come to call them. Tablets and smart phones are all the rage. A smaller screen, however, makes those “old-fashioned” layouts hard to read. So “apps” streamline the blogs to make them “more easily readable” on those devices. Something—a lot, I’d argue—is lost in the translation.
WordPress has gone so far as to create the Reader, which even on a laptop scrolls in a similar fashion to phone and tablet apps. The image below is the same two posts being viewed with WordPress’s Reader on my laptop. I think you’ll notice the difference.
Gone are our custom headers and background colors. My widgets? Also gone. My menus and Carrie’s? Gone. You would need to visit our sites to see them. And how many of you Reader users ever do that? Carrie’s post-leading image doesn’t appear in the Reader. I’m not sure why, but it may be related to her Watson theme, which does not have a “responsive” layout designed for flexibility on various devices. Able is a responsive theme, and I used the “featured image” option on this post. That’s the one that appears in the Reader instead of the first image in the post.
As we downsize on devices, the details continue to disappear. Okay, I’ll admit that on a tablet, things aren’t too bad. The WordPress iPad app restores our custom headers and images. And you can see a bit of my background color, but not so much of Carrie’s. Our menus are also visible and easily accessible—unlike when using the Reader on a laptop or desktop computer.
Many bloggers have said they do most of their post reading on their cell phones, using stolen moments in waiting rooms or in the car when waiting for their children. But what do we see? All I can say is, “Theme? What theme?” Do you see one?
This post came about because I’ve been tweaking my blog’s look and content for a while. I started making my own graphics (like the first image in this post) and coordinating their colors with those on the blog. To kick of my third year, I changed themes and added a background color customized to match my personalized clip art. Alas, no one seems to have noticed. I’m betting most folks use the Reader or a mobile device, and so the changes aren’t apparent. Oh, well. I enjoy the new look, even if no one else sees it or any future new pages and content.
But this begs the question—Is there any reason to have themes if no one will ever see them?
Actually, this raises even more questions. What about that specialized content we place in widgets and on pages accessible through our menus? If you look back to the phone images above, you do see menu options at the top of the post. And my Able theme makes it prominent. But all widgets are relegated to the bottom of the post. Do you stick around to scroll through them? I’ll bet not.
Even though I enjoy the way my blog looks on my laptop, it’s somewhat of a letdown to invest the effort in creating those special pages when in all likelihood, many readers won’t even realize they exist. In this day of mobile devices and shortened attention spans, how can such information be presented so that someone reading on a smart phone will find it and be motivated to navigate through it? I wish I had the answers.
So do you see bloggers’ themes? Do you visit a blogger’s “original” site, or do you use the Reader or some other feed and go only from post to post? How would you make “extra content” visible on smaller devices? Or would you decide the extras have gone the way of the dinosaurs and not offer them anymore?
My thanks go to Carrie Rubin for allowing me to use screen shots from her blog to help illustrate this post.