Dan Cole and the Theme Options Plugin

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Screenshot of Dan Cole's site

WordPress developer Dan Cole has created a Plugin to take the job of theme options out of the hands of theme developers and, in that way, universalize them. The idea is that instead of each theme creating its own options page, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, they can all hook into this one Plugin.

Dan’s Plugin is called Theme Options, and is available in the WordPress Plugin directory.

This sort of Plugin is one that tends to divide people, as it seems to beg for themes to require its installation in order for the theme to work to its fullest. At the same time, the simplicity of options sticking around from theme to theme, modularizing preferences and making transitions from themes that much easier, is a pretty solid argument for wanting to use it.

The Theme Options Plugin and Dan Cole caught my interest, so I asked him to sit down with a few of my questions, to give a little insight into the creation of this Plugin, and where he hopes it will go.


This Plugin has both a bold name and a bold mission: taking theme options out of the theme folder and putting them in the plugins folder. What caused you to take on this project?
The idea of this plugin came about when I was developing the Parallel Theme. I wanted the theme to be easy to customize for anyone, yet be a framework for other developers. Like all other theme developers who add options, I built them right into the theme, but I soon realized that the more options I add, the more cumbersome the theme is going to become. The way to solve this problem is to move the theme options into a plugin, that way, people who don’t like theme options can get their way and people who need theme options can have them.

At the same time, I was also helping random people with theme customizations. I found that some people don’t know much about web development and that it’s hard to explain the different ways to customize a theme. An easier way would be for them to have this plugin, then tell them to upload the code I’m giving them. This removes some technical hurdles, such as knowing where to insert the code, how the WordPress system is setup, or understanding ideas like child-themes. So this plugin is designed to make themes customizable, yet allow people to decide what options they have. This you have just the right amount of options available.

Themes that require Plugins tend to annoy some among the WordPress development community. How do you respond to those who say that a theme should be able to operate without any Plugin dependency?
I actually fall right into this group of people. I believe that themes should contain all the necessary code to run “out-of-the-box.” But I also believe that themes should be easily extended, without having to edit any theme files. If people want to customize their themes with pre-made code, they should be able to run a plugin, or be able to easily add snippets of code that aren’t quite worth being in a plugin.

How has reception been so far? Do you think you’ll have support from the major theme developers?
The Theme Options plugin has been downloaded over 2,000 times and it seams to be the perfect match for people that it’s targeting. I have even read that it’s going to be used on someone’s WPMU install, as a way of allowing bloggers to active pre-bundled custom theme options. As for major theme developers, I think they will eventually see the value in keeping options outside of the theme, but it’s going to be near impossible for them to change their ways in the near future.

Plus, they likely see pre-bundled theme options as a way of increasing the value of their theme and making it stand out from the rest. Themes that don’t have theme options are more likely going to suggest this plugin to their users, as well as other speciality plugins that add functionality to themes.

Hopefully people that provide theme customization support will see this plugin as a way of making things easier and suggest it to the people they help.

What has been the best/worst part about putting together a Plugin like this for the WordPress community?
I love programming and seeing a project come together, so writing the code and getting to use the plugin are by far my favourite parts. I also love getting constructive feedback, because it gives me more ideas and allows for a better plugin. The worst part is dealing with sceptics. This plugin is similar to the plugin manager, although this plugin has some additional features, which makes it’s goal and target use a little different. This plugin isn’t going to match the needs of every single person, so selling the idea to individuals is a little depressing.

Your Plugin is available for free in the Extend directory. Odds are your situation is like most developers, and you don’t see many donations. How do you support yourself as a Plugin developer? And is there anything I can plug for you?
I don’t think any plugin author that has a plugin in the Extend directory is out for money or even donations. I currently develop themes and plugins as a hobby and for entertainment. Outside of the WordPress World, I’m a college student going into Engineering. I have entered this plugin in the Weblog Tools Collection Plugin Competition, which is wrapping up August 1st. Hopefully that will shed some light into what people think of this plugin, but also attract some attention.

Thanks for interviewing me and the interest in the Theme Options plugin.


If you’re developing WordPress themes give Dan’s Plugin a shot. It’s availablein the WordPress Extends directory, and you can read about it at Dan’s website as well.

3 thoughts on “Dan Cole and the Theme Options Plugin

  1. Ryan,
    Don’t feel obliged to publish this comment. I just wanted to send you a note re some of your videos on YouTube. I found out yesterday that some a** with username wptheme is using other people’s videos as blatantly ripped off vehicles for his domain name ads. Here’s one:

    I wrote to YouTube using the copyright infringement form on their site, and they took down the videos of mine he was using within 24 hours. I’m sure they will do the same for you if you write to them.

    Best wishes,
    Mark

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