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What are Categories

Categories are textual representations of hierarchies. Categories use the > symbol to indicate a parent-child relationship. Some examples of categories follow:

  • science > physics

  • science > physics > astronomy

  • technology > power > solar

  • society & culture

  • economics

The first two categories above are related by a parent child relationship: the second category is a child of the first category.

To assign a category to a bookmark, type the name of the category in the category textbox in the bookmark panel. Categories do not have to be created in order to be assigned to bookmarks. Assignment of a category to a bookmark creates the assigned category if it does not already exist. Assignment also creates any parent categories of the assigned category if the parent categories do not exist.

For instance, assuming no other categories exist, assigning the category technology > power > solar to a bookmark will create three categories: technology, technology > power, and technology > power > solar. Categories are deleted if they no longer have any bookmarks assigned to them and do not have any child categories.

What’s Wrong with Folders and Tags?

Traditional bookmarking uses either folders and/or tags to organize bookmarks. Unfortunately, both these mechanisms are highly deficient.

Folders are especially problematic because of their terrible usability. Folder management is a pain. Creating a new folder involves opening a dialog box, navigating through a deep hierarchy, and then typing a title. Assigning bookmarks to folders is no simpler. Worse, even a moderate rate of bookmarking requires users to perform these tasks frequently.

A person creating just three bookmarks a day needs to assign thousands of bookmarks to folders every year. This need in turn demands hundreds of folders organized in a deeply nested hierarchy. Such a hierarchy is nightmare enough to create and manage using the traditional methods, but even once created, it is of no use. It tends to complicate both the browsing of folders and the assignment of bookmarks to folders. For bookmarking, folders are just not worth the trouble.

Tags were proposed as a solution to address the problems with folders. They abandon the notion of hierarchy and allow users to freely annotate bookmarks with descriptive words. Unfortunately, tags have problems of their own.

The biggest problem with tags is that people are gaining new knowledge and learning all the time, and this learning leads them to associate different tags with the same information over time. Bookmarking systems based around tags do not provide any mechanism to update old tags to reflect learning (this is not possible as tags are unstructured), so recall for older bookmarks becomes problematic.

The second problem with tags is that they do not provide any feedback to the user as to how many tags to assign to a bookmark. With folders a person can have a rule to split the folder into additional folders once some arbitrary number of bookmarks have been assigned to the folder but this can not be done with tags. Users have to guess and more often than not they tend to assign too many or too few tags to bookmarks.

Another problem with tags is that they require users to type redundant information. When using folders, a user creates a folder once and subsequently assigns relevant bookmarks to it. Unfortunately, with tags, a user needs to retype tags every time. Having previously tagged a similar bookmark does not help.

Categories address all of these problems and more. They combine the best features of folders and tags into an unbeatable combination.

Why Categories

Categories are like folders but category creation and deletion is totally automated. There is no management hassle associated with categories. This allows categories to be used very much like tags. However, unlike tags, categories can be renamed and restructured easily. Consequently, the problem of obsolescence of bookmark metadata because of user learning does not arise.

Categories not only combine the best of tags and folders but in fact completely subsume both. Folders correspond to categories in the obvious way, and tag descriptions can be expressed as categories by simply interpreting the > symbol as a tag separator. For example the tag description technology; solar; power is equivalent to the category technology > solar > power.

Employing the > as a parent child relationship indicator instead of a tag separator confers many advantages to categories. Categories allow deep bookmarking hierarchies to be created in no time. Moreover, by leveraging auto-completion categories allow deep hierarchies to be navigated easily. Even better, categories leverage usage statistics to offer users assistance in assigning the right amount of metadata to a bookmark.

Category Auto-completion

Unlike folders, categories do not suffer adversely from deep hierarchies. Categorize comes with category auto-completion. Category auto-completion allows shortcut navigation of deep hierarchies. For instance, once you have assigned some bookmark the category technology > power > solar, you can quickly assign another bookmark the same category by typing solar in the category textbox and selecting technology > power > solar from the auto-complete popup using the <TAB> key. Actually, more often than not you will only need to type sol to pull up the correct category in the auto-complete popup.

The economy of typing offered by categories is incomparable. Additionally, in contrast to tags, categories actively help you in assigning an appropriate category to a bookmark.

images/category/autocomplete.jpg
Category auto-completion in use

For instance, you may associate a bookmark as being related to technology but not have any specific category in mind for the bookmark. You can start looking for an appropriate category for the bookmark by typing technology in the category textbox. (In practice, typing technology will invariably be unnecessary and typing tec will suffice.) This will bring up technology related categories in the auto-complete popup. You can then choose some technology related category such as technology from the auto-complete results. Next you can type a space to constrain auto-complete results to sub-categories of technology. You can then select a category from the results such as *technology > aerospace > *, and iterate the previous steps to find a category appropriate for the bookmark.

Tip
You can type a space at the end of the text in the category text box to constrain auto-complete results to sub-categories of the current category.

Recently used Category Auto-completion

At times you will need to assign a bookmark the same category as another recently created bookmark. Category auto-completion offers assistance for this scenario as well. You can display a list of recently used categories in the category auto-complete popup by typing a space in a blank category textbox. You can do the same via the mouse as well by clicking on the small caret at the end of a blank category textbox. However, clicking on the caret when the category textbox contains text pulls up a list of any matching categories and not recently used categories.

images/category/autocomplete-recent.jpg
Recently used categories auto-completion

Category Statistics

Category auto-completion also helps you decide how much metadata to attach to a bookmark. It provides guidance by displaying category statistics. The category statistics include the number of sub-categories of a category as well as the number of bookmarks assigned to a category. This information allows you to quickly reorganize the category hierarchy whenever a category becomes overcrowded. As a side benefit the category hierarchy grows organically as bookmarks get added.

Note
To avoid visual clutter category statistics are only displayed when a category is selected in the auto-complete popup.
Tip
A good heuristic is to consider categories that have more than 20 bookmarks/sub-categories as overcrowded.

Categories can be browsed via the categories sidebar. Categories can also be browsed like folders using the bookmarks menu. The categories sidebar though is more convenient for browsing categories. It supports shortcut navigation of the category hierarchy via an auto-complete mechanism.

images/category/sidebar.jpg
The Categories Sidebar

The categories sidebar also supports renaming of categories and drag and drop of categories. Drag and drop allows a category to be reassigned a new parent category.

Reassignment of categories can sometimes lead to a category having two sub-categories with the same name. A merge operation then becomes necessary. A merge operation combines the bookmarks and sub-categories of the two categories into a single unified category.

Category Rename

Category renaming is another operation for editing bookmark hierarchies. To rename a category, right click the category to be renamed in the categories sidebar, and choose rename from the context menu. This opens the category rename panel and allows the category name to be edited.

Category renaming can be used for simple hierarchy changes such as renaming the category science > physics > astronomy to science > physics > astrophysics; however, it also allows fairly extensive hierarchy manipulations. For instance, it can be used to add/remove parent categories and to intentionally merge categories.

As an example of the power of category renaming, parent categories of science > physics > astronomy can be removed by the renaming of the category to astronomy. As a more complex example, parent categories of science > physics > astronomy can be removed and the category can be merged with the category science in a single step by the renaming of the category to science.

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