I love it when people critique my work as it gives me a great sense of accomplishment when I improve on my weak areas. So, when I heard that Technosailor (Aaron Brazell) wanted to do a review of WordPress theme frameworks and that Builder would be included, I got really excited.
Aaron just published the review with the epic title of Battle of the Titans: Premium Theme Framework Smackdown. If you haven’t read it yet, please do.
The final score for Builder is as follows:
- Price: B
- File Size: C
- Database Calls: A+
- Page Load: A-
- Hooks: A
- Internationalization: F
- Security: A
- BuddyPress: F
- SEO Support: C
- WordPress 2.9 Post Thumbnail Support: A+
- WordPress: 3.0 Navigation Support: F
- Raw SQL: A+
The overall score: 74%.
While I’d love to think that Builder would get all A’s, I knew that would probably not be the case, so I was not disappointed at all with the final score. In fact, I’m very, very excited by Builder’s score. Let me explain why.
My major focus when developing is to make a solid foundation that is well-designed, fast, reliable, and secure. Once this solid foundation is built, it can then be extended with new features. Since the foundation grading criteria — database calls, page load, hooks, and security — all received high scores, I feel that I did a good job of coding the theme. The remaining areas where Builder didn’t do so well are the features that I love to build on top of that foundation.
The good news is that we’re already focused on most of the areas that are low points for the theme:
This week, Ronald, our head of support, flew in from the Netherlands to talk shop and to get a lot of ideas for future development and support on our todo lists. One of the key points we talked about yesterday was getting fully internationalization and localization support into Builder first, Flexx next, and then going through our themes one by one to get support throughout our theme catalog. While I’m not sure if we can have this new support ready before he leaves by the end of the week, it should be pushed out for Builder in the next week or two.
If you tuned into our iThemes.tv broadcast yesterday, you got a sneak peak of a new SEO feature I’ve been working on for Builder. I hoped to have it launched on yesterday’s broadcast, but alas, I’m too focused on details and haven’t shipped it out yet.
I sent out a link to the SEO feature screenshot, and everyone got really excited. The focus is not just giving the end user control, but to give them guidance and reliable information as well.
This will be shipped out as a beta plugin available to all Builder users hopefully by the end of the day. Once it has been thoroughly tested, it will be rolled into Builder as a built-in theme feature.
WordPress: 3.0 Navigation Support
The cool news here is that Builder has had 3.0 menu support since March 3. You can check out the details and get a preview of the new menu feature on my announcement post: WordPress 3.0 Menus Demo Video on iThemes Builder.
That said, I added the support off of a month old build of WordPress, so maybe something has changed since then (the WordPress 3.0 code is pre-release after all). So, I will get the latest nightly build and test again. If any changes have broken menu support, I’ll put in a fix.
This is one we haven’t had a look into yet for one simple reason: we never get support requests about it. We’re very serious about supporting our users’ needs, so if it is a legitimate request and is a quick fix or if it is a big enough need, we make it a priority. So far, we haven’t heard anything specifically related to BuddyPress and Builder, so we haven’t focused on it.
Our team recently met John James Jacoby, one of the BuddyPress core devs, at SXSW and we’re all excited about the opportunity to talk with him more about BuddyPress and how we can improve compatibility. So, while I don’t have anything specific on the todo list yet, we definitely want to get full BuddyPress support into Builder now that we know that there are issues.
There is a lot of code behind Builder, thus a lot of files and a large amount of data. I believe Aaron equates file size to code bloat, for which I cannot blame him. I’ve been very careful to keep the code stack depth as light as possible while still keeping the code feature rich. The Page Load score seems to support that. Just the same, I’ll do my best to see if there are areas that I can trim back.
Compared to Headway’s and Thesis’ $164 each for the Developer Option and StudioPress’ All-Theme Package $249.95, our All Access Pass is definitely the heavy hitter at $499.95. However, the comparisons being offered aren’t really the same. For $127, our customers get everything Builder. Only our customers that want access to Builder and more than 30 other themes have to pay more than $127.
Headway and Thesis limit you to one or two sites and prohibit removal of footer attribution for $87. To remove those restrictions on either theme requires the Developer Option purchase at $164.
While Genesis as a core framework costs $59.95, gaining access to child themes requires an additional purchase of $24.95 each (or $79.95 when a child theme is purchased together with Genesis). To have access to Genesis and all of its child themes requires the $249.95 price of the All-Theme Package. The All-Theme Package does include other themes, but only that purchase option includes all of the Genesis child themes.
So, the min/max price comparisons work for the other theme comparisons (min feature set price versus max feature set price) but aren’t quite the same comparison when applied to Builder (max feature set price versus all our themes price). Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the price comparison is flawed overall as only Headway and Thesis have the most directly-comparable pricing models.
I’m extremely-pleased with Builder’s final score, but I’m not satisfied. My desire is to change each on of Builder’s scores into A’s. I also believe that Aaron did this review to challenge theme devs to strive for higher standards. That is a challenge I gladly accept.
I make this promise to all our customers: I will improve on all of the weak areas that Aaron has pointed out by the end of the month. That means great SEO options, full internationalization, full compatibility with BuddyPress, and verified 3.0 menu support. I’ll also see if I can reduce the overall size of Builder. As for the performance, while the current version earned Builder an A on Page Load, I want to see if I can meet Aaron’s challenge of a sub-500ms with some further performance improvements. I already have some ideas on how I can do this, so now it’s just a deadline issue.
It would be great if Aaron would do a followup review one month from now to see if his critiques have been met with action by us theme developers. Hopefully the net result will be better themes for all of the reviewed themes’ customers.
Now it’s time to hit the code and work on improving that score.