For the last few months, I've been using the WordPress theme wp-svbtle. Even with my limited design sense, I think it looks rather spiffy.
Recently though, I've had a few people on HackerNews and Twitter criticising me of "ripping off" Svbtle and accusing me of trying to defraud readers into thinking I was part of the Svbtle network.
While nothing could be further from the truth, I think an explanation is in order.
For those who don't know, Svbtle.com is a "curated collection of great people who have things to say." It was created by Dustin Curtis as a self-written blogging platform, which then morphed into a network of bloggers.
I had no idea of this when I first stumbled upon the Svbtle look and feel. As far as I was aware, the various blogs I were seeing were all just using a common theme - Svbtle.
As long time readers of my blog know, it's gone through many reincarnations - but its most recent designs have leant towards simplicity. Svbtle almost makes a fetish out of simplicity. As a devotee of de Bono's book on the subject I decided to use the theme.
It was only after I received some complaints, that I took a better look at the original Svbtle blog post. It says:
The goal is simple: when you see the Svbtle design, you should know that the content is guaranteed to be great. Network bloggers are encouraged to keep quality high at the expense of everything else.
Some people think that an invite only network for bloggers is somehow an evil conspiracy, I don't. It's perfectly acceptable to restrict access to you network - I don't have a problem with that.
A lot of words have been spilled on the issue of whether it's right to so blatantly copy another person's design. See, for example:
- Svbtle vs Obtvse (and on copying)
- Chris Shiflett's Commentary
- Don't Steal Ideas, It Is Discouraging
- Copy my idea, not my design (or what I learned from Obtvse/Svbtle)
I don't count myself part of the Silicon Valley "scene" or blogging "set" - so I don't feel that I'm well qualified to talk about the culture of building upon others' work and how it relates to the hacker/blogger ethos.
There are three broad points I want to make.
- I am not trying to make it look like I'm part of the exclusive Svble group. For a starter, I had no idea that it existed as an entity when I first used this theme. Furthermore, I doubt most people - except the most obsessive blog followers - are aware of the Svbtle "brand". I do accept, of course, that to those people it may look like I'm trying to pass myself off (despite the obvious differences and the large wp-svbtle banner on the page).
- Svbtle as a design builds on lots of other blog designs. There are hundreds of simple WordPress themes which strip out all extraneous fripperies for a distraction-free experience - nanos gigantum humeris insidentes.
- All that said, the Svbtle design is evidently recognisable and - while I would never want to be part of a club which would have me as a member - some people obviously think I'm up to something fishy.
So, here's my quandary. Do I continue with wp-svbtle (to which I've provided some minor contributions) and ignore the critics - or should I take it on the chin and find another radically simple WordPress theme?
You thoughts, dear reader?