Blogware and Categories, Part 1

In the beginning…

When I first started blogging, I was using Blogger, which doesn’t have categories. As you may or may not know, I write about all sorts of things, but what I write could probably be sorted into two large “bins”:

  • The slice-of-life stuff for which The Adventures of AccordionGuy in the 21st Century is best known, and
  • Articles about programming and technology.

I started getting emails from readers asking if there was a way that I could set up my blog so that they could skip the entries about programming. They weren’t programmers or techies, and they weren’t interested in that sort of article. With a blogging tool that didn’t support categories but did allow a single user to create any number of blogs, the solution was to create another blog. And thus I became the owner of two blogs:

For a time, this solution was good.

Soon, I wanted to be able to further subdivide these individual blogs. For example, I wanted to subdivide The Happiest Geek on Earth into categories such as Python, network programming, user interface, and so on. I didn’t want to split the blog into smaller, topic-specific blogs as I’d done earlier because:

  • I’ve got the time and energy to maintain two blogs at the very most, and I don’t want to have to create a new blog every time I want a new category for articles.
  • In many cases, some articles fit under more than one category. What if I wanted to post an article about network programming using Python? Do I post it under the “Python” blog, the “Network Programming” blog, or both?

I needed another approach.

Enter categories

Many other blogging tools, such as Movable Type, Radio Userland and Blogware support categories. Categories allow you to classify your blog articles and in turn display only those articles that fall under a certain category. For instance, consider the categorization scheme for this blog, as shown in the figure below:

Graphic: Category tree for 'Accordion Guy' blog all nodes collapsed.

This is a picture of a portion of the Blogware control panel page that displays the category structure of this blog. The Main Page rerpesents the blog, and the two folders represent the two main categories of articles in this particular blog:

  • Geek for the programmer/techie related articles
  • Life for the slice-of-life articles

The category structure is similar to the file/folder system of a disk directory in that it is a hierarchy. Categories can contain categories, which allows you to structure your information in a hierarchical fashion if you desire (there’s nothing stopping you from creating a “flat” structure, where all folders are at the same level in the hierachy). If you were to show this blog’s categories, subcategories, sub-subcategories and so on — in Blogware you do this by clicking on the “show all subcategories” link — you’d get this:

Graphic: Category tree for 'Accordion Guy' blog all nodes expanded.

Note that there are two kinds of folders:

  • Icon: Article folder. Article folders, which just contain plain old articles
  • Icon: Photo folder. Photo albums, which are folders that contain photos, which in a special class of article that contains a photo with an article attached to it

(For the moment, let’s not worry about how appallingly I’ve arranged my categories. I’m not a library scientist, and I’m sure that those of you who are — especially my friends Stacy and Liz — are holding holy librarian talismans to the screen in an attempt to protect yourselves from the evil. The point of this exercise is to show the mechanics of categories.)

If I were to write a general “slice-of-life” article, I could classify it under the Life category. If I wish, I can be more specific in my categorization. For example, I file any article covering something I did or something that happened to me under the It Happened to Me category. Under that category, I’ve got further subcategorizations — all photo albums — dedicated to specific events, such as my recent birthday party. Note that clicking on any of the links for the categories mentioned in this paragraph cause this blog to display only those entries for that category.

Bubbling up

In Blogware, you have the option of having categories “bubble up” to higher categories.:

  • If bubbling up is turned on, a category will display all articles filed under that category and all its subcategories.
  • If bubbling up is not turned on, a category will display only those articles filed under that category

In this blog, bubbling up is turned on, so selecting the Life category displays not only those articles filed under “Life”, but also those filed under It Happened to Me as well as any other subcategory of “Life” or any of its subcategories.

One article, one or more categories

Note that although it’s easy to think of categories as being analogous to real-world folders on the kind on your disk drive, there is a very crucial difference: unlike like files and folders, where a file can be in only one article at a time, an article can be in more than one category. For example, this article, which involves my accordion, the dating scene and a recounting of what happened to me one night, falls under three categories:

You might want to think of categories as “tags” rather than “folders” if it’ll help.

Restricted categories

In Blogware, you can also restrict access to categories to specified users. To access a restricted category, a reader would have to log in and have an account with permission to access that category. This allows you to use categories to separate articles and information that you want to share openly from those you want to share with a specific group to even those articles that you want nobody else but you to see.

Consider the example below:

Graphic: Category tree with a restricted category.

The lock beside “The Juicy Details” indicates that it is a restricted category and that any articles and categories contained within arer accessible only to those who are logged in and have permission.

Next: Categories, RSS and OCS.

One reply on “Blogware and Categories, Part 1”

The next step is to allow the reader to have their own settings.

A user might want to see on the front page of Joey’s blog articles from the categories Python, Blogware, Accordion-Related, and Accordion City, but not from the other categories. (and for a blog with multiple authors, a user might want to see on the front page only articles from certain authors.)

Slashcode has this feature currently (it only affects display on the front page)

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