Woo recently released their highly-touted (by them) e-learning WordPress plugin, Sensei. Features look nice, but is it solid? Not as of this writing.
I found out about this little gem because I was contacted for help by someone who had bought it. The install had gone OK, and it was operating, but it looked funny. The course pages looked Overly Wide and strange. I am not linking to the site for now, because I’d rather not hold them up for unwanted scrutiny. But if you pay me, maybe I’ll show you. 🙂 I took a look at the site, and noticed problems immediately.
Caution: Developer-Speak coming up. But I’ll try to make it somewhat human-understandable.
Rookie Woo Developer Mistake #1
When I looked at the HTML code, I noticed that they used the ID “content” on the DIV containing the course info. That sounds logical, except for one little thing – zillions of WordPress themes already have a DIV with an ID of “content”. Doh! So if the theme’s “content” has a certain width, the Sensei DIV will use this width, even if it’s drastically wrong in the Sensei context. Also, in some themes this may cause 2 DIV’s with an ID of “content”, and this is a definite no-no, pages won’t validate, CSS won’t work, etc.
In English: if your site’s content container is of a certain width, the Sensei course content area might be too narrow, or too wide. Annoying, yet fixable.
Woo Developer Mistake Number Deux
The above problem (unless there are 2 “content” DIV’s) can be fixed with appropriate CSS. Plugins frequently come with their own CSS. This plugin had none. Ouch! And before you storm in with a comment, in the Sensei menu I did have the box checked to use its CSS. There just wasn’t any. 🙂 And even if the CSS had been decent, this would not have prevented the potential duplicate ID’s problem. Doh! So I wrote extra CSS to fix the problem, and all was well again.
English: if their CSS and HTML had been working and appropriate, the problem may have been prevented.
It’s especially ironic that there was no Woo CSS for this, because Woo Themes have tremendous amounts of very complex CSS that can take significant time to modify, even for a CSS geek like yours truly. Since that first site, I was asked to look at another Woo Sensei misshapen site, and this one DID have Woo CSS, so I guess that site owner had gotten the latest partial bugfix from Woo, but there were still contextual CSS problems. Ouch! (almost Developer Mistake Numero 3, I suppose) Again, writing some CSS fixed the problem. I can’t even offer a stock fix, because every theme’s CSS dimensions and layout are different!
In Woo’s defense, I will say that their documentation is usually decent, and in fact, somewhat better than that offered by other WordPress theme companies. Here is a nice page describing how to alter the Sensei layout with template code. I actually didn’t need to resort to that, but the instructions sound pretty clear, and I’d be happy to tackle that for someone who needs a more drastic or more customized fix.
Woozy Support – We Can’t Get No WordPress Satisfaction
CSS and template documentation are plenty enough to allow someone like me to quickly fix this type of site. But if you bought Sensei and you’re not a web developer, you may not be able to fix your site with either CSS OR template documentation. And this is what’s getting people very torqued. I’ve been hearing anecdotally that Sensei buyers are frantically asking for help from Woo tech support, and they are getting little or unsatisfactory help. I can’t comment firsthand on that, because although I’ve worked on Woo Themes and Woo Commerce for various people, I didn’t buy the products, so I’m not able to access their support, nor am I informed as to when bugfixes are released. So I do my own troubleshooting.
My specialty is creating themes using the Genesis framework, and people asked me if this is a Genesis problem. I would say no. The problems above can occur in any WordPress theme.
So I hope Woo nails this stuff down sometime soon. It occurs to me that if they get rid of the “content” ID to fix the above scenario, some sites’ CSS will re-break! 🙂 Well, that’s what you get for releasing something before it’s fully baked. Fortunately, so far no known Woo Sensei salmonella poisoning cases!