Briefly: what is a category?

Life on the net brings many annoyances. Software is frequently updated, in ways that sometimes make you have to re-learn how to do things. Blogging sites (I use WordPress for this blog and the much more tolerant livejournal for AZBlogX) and social media sites  (I read and post to Facebook and Google+) change the way they work, frequently, and they almost never announce these changes, so you suddenly discover that things no longer work the way they used to, and you have to discover (by trial and error, or asking around) a way to do what you want to do.

Facebook is famous for changing the way it works, sometimes apparently trying something out (maybe on only some of its users) and then changing things back the next day. Vexing.

WordPress made some substantial changes, unannounced, a few months ago, and I’m still coping with one of the little oddities of the current system, the way the label Uncategorized is used.

Used to be that when you started a posting, the box Uncategorized in the Categories menu was checked (and no other box was), but as soon as you selected a category, the box Uncategorized was automatically unchecked. This makes a lot of sense. But in the new WordPress world, Uncategorized stays checked no matter what do you do with the other boxes; you have to uncheck the box by hand. This flies in the face of common sense and ordinary-language semantics: labeling something uncategorized is inconsistent with assigning it to one or more categories; it’s like saying “I’m unattached” when you have a spouse.

Presumably, we get to this odd state of affairs through the route that Geoff Pullum has called nerdview: to a programmer, all the labels with boxes are (by definition) categories, so Uncategorized is a category. End of story.

No doubt it took some extra programming to automatically uncheck Uncategorized, and a programmer would see no reason to take the trouble to do this, when, in the programmer’s view, Uncategorized is just a category. But then users are obliged to go to the trouble of unchecking that box by hand, which is hard to remember (I provide categories for virtually every posting I do), and anyway, the box is way down on the list, so a user have to scroll down a considerable bit, or use the Search utility to get to it.

[added the next day: From Mike Pope on Facebook, this 9/27/04 piece “The Rise and Fall of Homo Logicus” from the blog Coding Horror: programming and human factors:

Of all the professional hubris I’ve observed in software developers, perhaps the greatest sin of all is that we consider ourselves typical users. We use the computer obsessively, we know a lot about how it works, we even give advice to friends and relatives. We are experts. Who could possibly design software better than us superusers? What most developers don’t realize is how freakishly outside the norm we are. We’re not even remotely average– we are the edge conditions. I’ve often told program managers: if you are letting me design your software, your project is in trouble  ]

One Response to “Briefly: what is a category?”

  1. [BLOG] Some Monday links | A Bit More Detail Says:

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