in blogging, wordpress, writing

Balloons is, concurrently, a ‘fine WordPress theme’ and a ‘whimsical’ one. It is also a theme that caught my attention when I was browsing for WordPress themes recently. Let me be clear – I was not browsing for themes for my own site. I was browsing for themes for our domain, which looks to be in need of a refresh.

But Balloons caught my eye. Why? I’m not sure. Maybe it was the large number of balloons that are front and center at the head of the theme. Maybe it was the oddly small typography, which could look great if it were a few font sizes bigger. But as soon as I saw it, it caught my attention. I started thinking about how I would modify it to suit my needs and change some things I’d definitely get irritated at. I hate when theme authors fixate on certain social network links but not others or add an unneeded sidebar to the theme. But then, I stopped and took a step back.

This planning and plotting I was up to, was it needed? Was it a useful change to my site? Was this theme better than my current theme? I have put many hours into editing my current theme, “Independent Publisher”, to make it look the way I wanted it to look. So should I be putting those same hours again, so soon, into a completely new theme with completely new issues I’d have to fix? I like the challenge, but is the effort valuable? Have I received negative feedback on my theme? Has someone told me that it’s not good the way it looks or maybe it fundamentally conflicts with the content? I write on a variety of subjects – code, fiction, politics, observations about the world, and movie reviews, among others. So it’s been hard to find a theme that fits all that content. Thus, over the years, I’ve experimented with many themes, many plugins and formats to elicit some kind of a reaction from my otherwise passive readership.

I was talking to my brother recently and we were talking about how LinkedIn has the habit of trying new things with their site. I understand the impulse. It’s all about constantly evolving. You have a product, you want to make it better. There’s also the business case for it. For startups and fledgling companies alike, there’s a market to capture and industries to disrupt. Thus, the need for experimentation drives them to keep trying to do new things. If a company working on a professional social network can also act as a Rolodex and be the go-to resource for industry news, that’s better for their business.

But my brother’s point was valid too – you’ve got a product. You’ve released it to the general public. You’re working on minor improvements all the time. Let. it. sit.

There’s oftentimes no need to add that new feature to your current site. If you want to experiment, make a separate platform or a new app to try things. Put it under your label, call it “LinkedIn Connect” or “Facebook Paper”. But don’t try to shove new ideas down the throats of your current users. Let them get used to the current system. Let them complain and argue the merits and demerits of it. Let them give you real feedback and then act on it. At the end of the cycle, if the new idea is that popular, roll it into your current system. Integrate your changes. But don’t start out with the assumption that people will be OK with a constantly changing platform. Most of the time, there’s no need for that.

We talked about all the other companies out there too, including giants such as Google, Cisco and HP. Those who sit on their laurels get surprised by a leaner, smarter company coming along to steal their market share. But those who continually reinvent just to keep the rust off, lose their focus and their customers. If you’ve got a radical improvement to your product, go for it. But make sure you’ve got a second set of eyes telling you that the new is actually better than the old, not just newer than the old.

So, as I looked at Balloons, I silently sighed. There was no need for it. No one is telling me that my tech posts look bad in the new theme. My most popular post ever “Installing Fever on AppFog” still gets visited a few times a week even though it’s years old now. People still read through it on a theme that’s better suited to fiction than tech tutorials and no one seems to mind. Older posts about code are still visited and no one cares if the font is larger than needed.

I bookmarked the theme and closed the tab. One day perhaps, I’ll dust it off and show it to someone and ask if it would make for a better theme for my blog. Until then, my site looks good and I’ve decided what to do with it – Let. It. Sit.

Authors Note – I wrote and edited this post on Hemingwayapp. It’s an amazing editor. It points out sentences that are hard to read, phrases that can be simpler, and the use of adverbs and passive voice. It helped me get rid of all the instances of passive voice in this text. The makers, the Long brothers, have come up with a new Beta version that you should check out. The New Yorker has taken notice of the app too, among other news media. You can read about their coverage here. This article got a grade of 6 on the app, which is not at all bad!