Aside from sharing a name with one of the greatest movies ever, this post is not about the venerable Marty McFly or Doc Brown but rather the future of X and the Themeco ecosystem.
But First, The Past
My foray into the WordPress ecosystem was more out of necessity. It was around 2007, and I needed a solution for building sites for my internet marketing business. After breaking my teeth on FrontPage and Dreamweaver (yes, FrontPage), having a CMS that could take care of the heavy lifting was like seeing a mirage in the desert that turned out to be real.
Keep in mind, this was the WordPress of 2007. But the alternative for me at the time was FrontPage. From Microsoft.
As I learned more about the WordPress ecosystem, I was fascinated. Here was this powerful technology that anyone could take, build upon, and even potentially use to create a business. At the time I was only concerned with using this tool. The thought hadn't even entered my mind for anything beyond that.
But then something happened. A sudden detour in my business that I didn't see coming. Quickly, I found myself in uncharted waters, scary waters, and my eyes opened to new opportunities. Looking back, while that season was extremely challenging and not something I would have asked to go through, I can honestly say that Themeco would not have come into existence had that sovereignly appointed season of life not taken place. But that is a story for another day. 🙂
Fast forward a few years, and there I was sitting with a couple of people telling them about this marketplace called ThemeForest and how someone was selling 100 units per week of their theme! Why couldn't we sell 100 units of a theme? What if we could sell 150 or 200?!
Fast forward another couple years, and the decision had been made. We were going to make a theme.
Now for those of you who are in business for yourself, you'll know this next feeling quite well. I remember many a meeting and discussion sitting around talking about ideas, hopes, and dreams for this business. Ideas are great, but so is hanging out with friends or going to see a movie. There is something about putting work into something where nothing is guaranteed in return that is both exhilarating and terrifying.
What if WordPress goes away? What if we put all this time and money into something that doesn't sell? Do we really know what we're doing? This and a thousand similar thoughts were ever present in my mind, but on we went.
(There is much more to this story and for the sake and purpose of this piece I won't go into those details today. If you'd ever like to learn more about that time and what I learned from it, reach out to me anytime. It's a story I love to share).
Fast forward to 2013, and X finally hit the market. I remember very well sitting in my office the night X was finally approved on ThemeForest. It had been an especially trying final few months as we made the push to get it launched, and as I got that email saying "Your product has been approved," I was nearly in tears.
The story since then has been an incredible whirlwind. We have expanded our team from just a couple to nearly 30. We have answered over 100,000 support threads. We have released 145 updates, 25 Extensions, hosted our first Themeco Summit (the second is in the works) and much, much more.
This represents just a portion of our past—a past for which I am very thankful.
Let me start off by saying that our goal for the future is rather simple. Ambitious, but simple. WordPress has a goal to earn 100% of the web building market, and we want to earn 100% of the theme market.
Now as we all know statements in and of themselves do not create reality, but I believe it is in the spirit of a goal like this that we can do our best work.
Big challenges need big ideas. Those ideas need to be thought through from every angle, and they need a combination of cynical reality mixed in with lofty "What ifs."
For our part, we want to be about the business of continuing to innovate—not just for innovations sake—but to help our customers solve problems and to push our products and platform forward. This is why thousands of people turn to X (many for the first time) each and every month.
While some theme companies simply wait for others to spearhead key advancements then copy and call it a day, we would rather lead from the front and not rest on our popularity. Big challenges not only need big ideas, they need thoughtful consideration, good execution, and then observing the results and adapting as needed.
In April, our leadership team got together to put pen to paper about the next wave of feature and product releases for Themeco. For several days we reviewed notes, read feature requests, analyzed bottlenecks, and planned for the future.
As we narrowed down the scope of projects we felt would best serve our current and future customers, we settled on two paths: the easy way and what I'll call the it's so hard we're not even sure it's possible but if we can pull it off it will be incredible way.
While challenging, this speaks very much to the heart of our company and what we hope to be known for. We are not a shortcuts company. We take a very long term approach to all decisions and want to earn your future business.
Sure there are things we could quickly pull together that would give some cool bells and whistles, but how does that work out in the long run? What future things can we not do or not do to the degree we'd like to since we took the path of least resistance? How do these decisions affect performance, compatibility with other tools, or what people expect when using WordPress? Do these solutions actually help our customers make more, sell more, or do more?
The outcome of that meeting was essentially the next year of development projects for X and Cornerstone with the past six months being devoted to creating what we planned. We're excited to share these upcoming features with you today!
First, for those interested in some of the new underlying technology for X and Cornerstone, we wanted to share about how all these new features are powered and what went into the decision making process. With something this ambitious, there are major challenges to overcome starting with perhaps the most important, state management.
Traditionally, when navigating between pages, the web server will render the page and determine it's state. When working with apps that need to work at lightning speed, it's hard to justify having the server do all that work when it can be done in the browser.
The new challenge this creates is managing application state in the browser. When working with a suite of features that span multiple contexts and data sources, all without refreshing the page, state management is critical. You need to keep your data clean, while updating the page markup and URL in accordance with user interactions. The original page builder solved this with a combination of Backbone + Marionette. This served us well, but we felt it lacked the ability to scale into running multiple separate features in a single application. Enter Ember.js.
Ember allows us to keep all app markup and presentation logic inside the browser, only communicating with the server to fetch or update data. It's also the brain that remembers what URL you are on and what data should be used for that screen. There are advantages outside of state management as well. Before the app can run, hundreds of files and thousands of lines of code need to be built into a single application script. Ember helps us keep this environment organized and modular.
This and many more advancements including Flexbox are all part of the upcoming technology powering X and Cornerstone.
The foundation of X, theme options are responsible for all the global aspects of your site chrome. As we reviewed our current theme options, we found several shortcomings. While we were one of the first themes to pioneer usage of all theme options in the WordPress Customizer allowing for 100% front-end editing, its architecture was holding us back in many ways.
We wanted to flatten the world between global and on page. Trying to shoehorn the Customizer into that relationship was not going to work, so we set out to re-build a completely new theme options panel that will be debuted in our 5.0 release.
Borrowing conventions from the current layout, you'll notice on first pass that nothing appears to be different. This is by design however the inner workings of how theme options work are now much more streamlined and built for the future.
For starters, we wanted to lean heavily into being able to search for theme options. After all, who likes to be endlessly looking for controls when you can instantly search and have it presented to you? You'll really enjoy this new feature!
Next, we felt it was important to incorporate many of the controls you were familiar with in Cornerstone. Things like our color picker with alpha transparency to many other UX conventions you are used to will make the on-boarding a predictable experience.
Finally, you'll notice our new friend "The Bar" on the left. This trusty companion will help you jump back and forth between global options and our builders in a way that is wonderfully effortless.
No longer will theme options and building feel like two separate worlds, they will be connected together and only a couple clicks away at any time.
The buttons at the bottom will be contextually smart based upon the screen you are on reinforcing a consistent workflow and being further strengthened by the availability of keyboard shortcuts. Everything will remain 100% on the front-end allowing for real time viewing as changes are made.
The first release of this options panel is about achieving three things.
- To create a seamless transition from the old theme options to this new one. The Customizer theme options are not being removed and for several releases you'll be able to use both the Customizer and our new Theme Options panel while you get used to everything.
- To move over the current options as they exist in the Customizer. Newer global options will be added over time as appropriate.
- To make the Xperience of global and on page editing effortless and connected.
Estimated Timeline: Our new theme options panel will be released in v5.0 which is scheduled for release in early fall 2016.
The Header Builder
Now, this is something to get excited about. We spent a LOT of time reviewing headers and how we wanted to architect an environment that would completely revolutionize the concept of headers and more importantly, what you can do with them when building websites.
To provide the necessary control, a builder would be the way to go. Now before you think that just creating a header builder is a simple project, remember that the construct of a header is much more abstract then that of a page. So while there are many "page builders" on the market that borrow conventions from the realities of building a page in WordPress, we were entering unchartered waters and would need to create not just the builder but the construct—or the boundary lines if you will—for what constitutes a header and how that fits in with the rest of your site creation.
Too drastic a change and you feel like you're in a disconnected world; not powerful enough and we're wasting your time with another "me too" type feature.
The first unique consideration was the orientation of the builder. After all, headers typically take up the full width of a browser so while a page can vertically scroll and you don't necessarily have to see everything at once, we felt it was imperative that you be able to actually see the entire header as you were working on it.
This meant creating a horizontal work/preview orientation that would feel familiar but specifically created for headers. The challenge here is presentation of controls and options. We wanted to minimize both the number of clicks and horizontal scrolling which involved working through several permutations.
Next, we set out to create the world within this header builder. Similar to Cornerstone's sections, rows and columns our header builder will have bars, containers, and modules. You can add as many bars as you wish horizontally, and you can even add a single bar vertically. Within those bars you can add containers that will hold the modules (think Elements but for headers) such as navigation, social links, calls to action, optin forms, and much more.
You'll be able to save a header, apply it to one or a group of pages, apply it to your blog index, or basically anywhere you wish. You can create many variations of headers to create page specific functionality that will come in very handy for product and sales pages or creatively presenting content in the header.
Estimated Release: Our new header builder will be released in v5.0 which is scheduled for release in early fall 2016. Beta testing will begin in a few weeks.
The Footer Builder
We haven't shared much about this yet as it's fun to keep some things a surprise, but you'll be pleased to know a footer builder will be released in short order after the header builder is launched!
While footers bring their own unique considerations primarily due to WordPress' use of widgets and widget styling, you'll soon be able to build beautiful footers in X in an environment that is very familiar. The orientation will be flipped with that of the header builder so you'll be able to see the footer as you are working on it in addition to footer-specific modules.
You'll be able to quickly jump to other aspects of the editing experience (global and on-page) with the look of your X footers being endlessly customizable. We're most excited for you to see this!
Estimated Release: Our footer builder will be released in v5.1 which is scheduled for release in late 2016.
Advanced Controls, Blogs, and Portfolios (oh my)
In order to give you the Element controls we have planned, it was essential for the proper architecture to be in place first. Thankfully, v5 will make that a reality which means we can start adding more granular control plus introduce several new Elements.
From new typographic controls to additional color options to brand new features that can be accessed when working with the Elements, this will be an ongoing effort.
After taking care of headers, footers, and new/updated Elements, there are a few key structural pieces we plan to revisit including additional blog layout options and new grid options for things like portfolios. We have some initial notes on how we want to tackle this and will share more at the proper time.
These are important aspects that will be easier to release once the previous updates are in place. Thankfully, there continue to be many native and 3rd party options through our Extensions that allow for the continued customization of these areas in the meantime, and we have another exclusive deal to announce soon related to one of our Extensions.
Estimated Release: You will start seeing advanced controls and V2 Elements around v5.2 with additional blog and portfolio options thereafter. These exciting new features are on the books!
The Future of Stacks
One of the most unique aspects to X is our Stack concept. Originally conceived, these were opinionated designs that combined a certain look and functionality within your X-powered site. Over time, people have requested to be able to have more global control over what were originally intended to be Stack-specific features, and we'd like to share a bit about how Stacks will function in the future of X.
They will remain selectable options, however in the future they will go through some of the many theme options and instantly configure your site to "look" a certain way. For instance with Renew everything is very clean and flat. When you select the Renew Stack in the future it will take care of all the options setting behind the scenes that allow you to then drill down into individual options you would like to change.
This will more clearly define the concept of what a "Stack" is within X plus allow us the option to release many more Stack configurations. We are also experimenting with some very unique ideas related to this that will take the Stack concept even further.
Estimated Release: It's a little too early to estimate at this point as the release will be more iterative as new advanced controls are added. We'll definitely keep everyone updated as there is info to share. As always, a seamless transition is our utmost priority even with considerable markup revisions as these updates include.
Completely New Theme.co
We are also underway with a complete site-wide redesign. A wonderfully talented X customer was brought on board to help with the redesign and we are looking forward to introducing you to all that we have in store including a very special new community initiative that will allow you to connect with some of the smartest creative pros across the world all from within your Themeco account!
Estimated Release: 1st quarter of 2017.
The WordPress theme world is an interesting dynamic typically filled with iterative releases and a lot of following the crowd with regards to feature development. We are pleased to tell you that what you are about to have at your disposal is not only not available in any other WordPress product on the market—it's not available in any other web builder on the market!
In addition to these wonderful new features, our commitment to world-class support and a growing Extension ecosystem remains stronger then ever. Our support team consistently keep response times fast and on point—many times within an hour, and our Extension library is holding strong at over two dozen products and counting—all supported and updated by Themeco with a license of each included with every X purchase.
On their own these individual features would be reason enough to use X, however when you add them all together it truly creates the product and community you can depend on for all of your personal and client projects.
We have many other partnerships and exclusive Extension releases in various stages of development, and we look forward to also bringing those to you throughout the weeks and months ahead.
From the entire team, a very heartfelt thank-you for the privilege that it is to work with you both now and in the future. I hope you've enjoyed this tour of all the exciting things to come with X and Cornerstone over the next several months. Get ready!
Fight the good fight,