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Andrew Warner

Software Engineer and technology enthusiast
Director of Engineering at Genius

Choosing a New Theme

About a week ago I finally decided that I wanted to start blogging again. I love talking about programming, but I often find it difficult to motivate myself to write a blog post about it. I sat down to write a post, and sure enough, I couldn’t think of anything to blog about. So instead I procrastinated by thinking about all of the things I wanted to do to make my blog better.

The most obvious problem was that I was still using the default Octopress theme. It has a lot of nice qualities: it’s easy to navigate around, easy to read, and it’s responsive! Unfortunately, using the default theme meant that my site also looked exactly like everyone else’s.

Now Octopress is also great because it’s extremely easy for anyone to make a theme. In fact, a bunch of people have already done exactly that. Looking at the list of themes, though, I realized that it was difficult to tell which ones were “the good ones.” Normally when I have a huge list of products that I want to comb through, I’m on a website where I can easily sort by some metadata about the product. (e.g. Amazon) My preferred sort is always by popularity: I basically trust the wisdom of the crowd. On Amazon, for example, I’m much more interested in the product with the most reviews than I am in the product with the best average review. Unfortunately, GitHub tables have no such convenient sorting options!

Luckily, I’m a programmer, and, wanting to procrastinate more, I decided that I wanted to write a quick script to sort projects by number of stars. As it turns out, it’s pretty simple to use Nokogiri and Octokit to get the information I want:

This script simply:

  • scrapes the themes page
  • parses it with Nokogiri
  • finds the table with the themes
  • selects the link from the first column of each row, which is the link to the theme repository on GitHub
  • extracts the owner and repo name using a “simple” regular expression
  • maps owner/repo to number of stars
  • prints a sorted list of repo links and stars

and voila, we have an Amazon-like sort by popular-type situation. (check out the results in the gist comments)

After checking out the popular themes, I decided, contrary to my usual shopping strategy, that I wasn’t in love with any of them. I was looking for something simple, single-column, and easy to read. I ended up settling on whiterspace, which, even though it only had 45 stars, was exactly what I was looking for.

So, while I didn’t end up choosing the most popular theme, it was still useful to be able to look at a mapping of themes to popularity. In the end, whiterspace got one more star, and I got a cleaner, more distinct-looking blog. Oh, and in doing all of this work, I ended up with a somewhat interesting topic to blog about (I hope!), accomplishing my original goal in a somewhat roundabout way. Win win win!