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I would like to add a button under my theme manager which shows a thumbnail listing of available skins (that did not ship with the theme when it was installed).

I'd like to feed this listing from a file on a central server that I maintain.

Looking for some advice on how to best implement this within WordPress.

I will periodically add new skins to the available listing and would like for users of my theme to be able to view them and perhaps even see a "new" icon when a new skin is first launched.

I'm also interested in the merits of hosting and serving the file from Amazon s3 vs my own server

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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Your best bet here would be a specialized RSS feed set up on your server. You could bundle a dashboard widget with your theme that automatically pulls this RSS feed and displays the thumbnails and a description of the new skins that are listed on your site.

Step 1: RSS Feed

First, decide what information you want to display in the widget. I recommend a skin title, the thumbnail, a short description, and a link to further information.

Store this information as XML on your server.

Step 2: Dashboard Widget

Create a dashboard widget that routinely checks this feed and displays updated items on the dashboard. You can use just about any existing RSS reader widget as a model here... updates to your server-hosted XML file will automatically appear on remote WordPress dashboards in this section.

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Thanks EAMann. I'm checking out dashboard widgets right now. – Scott B Oct 11 '10 at 19:09
I suppose I can just stylelize the RSS with css (with the css file attached to my theme's functions.php) to achieve the grid pattern I need. Do you concur? I'll also need to fix the height of the dashboard widget and enable overflow:auto for scrolling the contents. – Scott B Oct 11 '10 at 21:18
Yes on both accounts. – EAMann Oct 11 '10 at 21:20

It may not have the visuals you described, but if you just want to show a basic text feed, the widgets already exists - on the default "Wordpress Blog" or "other Wordpress News" dashboard widgets, hover over the gray header bar and you'll see a "configure" link on the right side appear. Click it and widget shows input fields for your RSS feed, title of the widget, how many items to show, etc.

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