My thoughts on how we can speed up the Theme Review Process

This weekend, I will be attending WordCamp US 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There are many things I am looking forward to, which I have talked about here. At the forefront of my aim is the need to find a solutions to the stuck theme review process. As most of us are painfully aware, the theme review process has been stuck, and refuses to move forward. Themes have to be reviewed before they can go live, and many of us have developed and submitted themes, only to see them grow old sitting in the review line.

Ever since I started working with WordPress themes, I have been contributing to the theme review process. And I have never seen the process come to such a screeching halt as this year. Themes have been languishing in the review process for more than 3 months, creating an incentive to bypass the process altogether, which is not optimal.

I am sure this is on the minds of many of us who will be attending WordCamp US 2015. For many of us working on WordPress, many of us with companies whose core business relies on WordPress, this is a huge problem.

In the spirit of problem solving, I want to put forward a few thoughts on the source of the problem, which I hope will get the discussion going on finding a solution to this. What lies at the core of this problem? I have been asking a few questions myself based on what I see around me:

Are the guidelines for theme review clear enough?

Are we training enough new reviewers?

Are there enough incentives for someone to contribute to the theme review process?

One thing we need to acknowledge is that the guidelines are not clear or stringent enough, and so making concrete decisions and backing them up is harder to do for the average theme reviewer. In the absence of this clarity, reviewers are getting bogged down in questions from people whose themes have been rejected in the review process. Many have raised questions on why a certain theme passed review whereas theirs didn’t, and won’t stop until it becomes a fully heated debate. These kinds of questions exhaust the reviewer who is spending their time voluntarily, without reward. Improving on the guidelines will make for better standards, and also free up reviewer time as they have to deal with less questions.

Another issue I think responsible is the small number of reviewers. Many reviewers seem to move on after 2-3 years of active contribution. Perhaps we need to talk about how we can make old reviewers active. At the same time, we cannot expect the same people to keep the process going forever. We also need to focus on training enough new reviewers to take over when old hands move on. One easy way would be to have training sessions on theme review in each WordCamp, everywhere. We had a workshop on theme review in WordCamp Nepal this year, and 36 attended. Out of those 36 attendees, 7 were female which is great because normally women are not considered to be as active as their male counterparts in the tech sector. We are hoping we produced at least 2 theme reviewers. If WordCamp central agrees, every WordCamp could do a session on theme review. If every WordCamp produces only one new reviewer, that will really be helpful.

I mentioned earlier that reviewers have more frustrations than incentives when participating in the theme review process. We need to initiate better reward systems for the reviewer. Earlier, we had options for the theme reviewer’s themes to be featured, boosting their visibility. If this option made a comeback, it would help. Reviewer’s contributions could also be publicly acknowledged, just like core contributors. Those who review a lot of themes could have the number of themes reviewed listed on their profile, their shops could be listed is trusted theme shops, and we could think of other incentives to make engagement in the review process worth the reviewer’s time.

There has been a lot of work done on improving the WordPress core, and a lot of active contributors, which is great. However, we also need to sharpen and improve our focus on other areas that are equally valuable. Right now, the theme review process looks like a neglected child that needs particular attention. I hope we can have a robust debate on this in Philadelphia and come up with some concrete ways to move ahead.