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MovableType 4: Categories demoted?

I'm going to put on my UI hat to talk about the MovableType 4 beta once again. MovableType has long had distinction between 'primary category' and 'secondary categories'. There's not much distinction between the two other than the primary category is the one you see listed in the MT entry management menus. This has lead to a progression of category-entry widgets in MT to try and project this distinction to the user. The side-effect of this progression is that the primary category has also had the distinction of being the category you can enter quickly.

MT4 shakes up this long-held distinction. For a brief summary of the category widget, analysis of the new widget, and suggestions for improvement (in other words, another of my rants), please read on.

A Short History (as best as I can recall)

  • Back in MT2 days, you selected the primary category from a drop-down menu and you could click to open a separate window from which to select secondary categories. The secondary window was klunky, but you could see which categories you had selected in it quite easily.

  • MT3.0 eliminated the separate window for the secondary category. Instead, it used a drop-down checklist that you could scroll and select additional categories. The drop-down list felt less klunky, but it made it very difficult to quickly tell which categories you had selected -- you had to scroll up and down through the list to find the checked entires.

  • MT3.3 introduced tagging as a builtin feature using an autocomplete textfield. This setup tagging as the natural competitor to categories (as well as keywords).


MT4 mostly eliminates the primary/secondary category distinction, but I also get the impression that categories are being demoted. Long present as the box adjacent to the entry title, the category widget now sits below the 'Tags' field. The primary category has also lost the distinction as being the category you can enter quickly, though the display of categories is better.


The main improvement is that you can now, at a glance, see all the categories an entry belongs to on the Edit Entry screen. You can also easily remove categories and the 'primary' category is relegated to a green circle icon in the list. I really like this part of the control.

The new control for selecting categories is more problematic for me, though. It is an evolution of the secondary category selector from MT3 and features a scrolling checkbox list that pops into place when you click on the "Add Category" link. Like the secondary category selector of old, this new control only allows mouse-based interactions with it: in order to select a category, you must click on the link, scroll through the list, and click the checkbox. Previously, I could always set the primary category using the keyboard: tab to the primary category pulldown, start typing in the name of the category, and, because it was a standard pulldown menu, Firefox would quickly select the category I wanted with only or two keystrokes.


Why is this a problem for me? At times, I have had up to 120+ categories on this blog. It takes a long time to scroll through a list of 120 items in a small window. More recently, I have whittled the categories on this site down to 70, but I still find this to be cumbersome with the MT3 secondary category widget. One of the reasons I have whittled the categories down is that I find that the autocomplete tags widget is much easier to use (caveat: though I seem to have broken that as well -- it appears to be unable to handle 1000+ tags).

For the new category widget, I was hoping that they could come up with something that would be a hybrid of the standard pulldown and the checkbox list approach. In my mind I'm picturing a list with a textbox at the top that filters the list as you type: in effect, an autocomplete text box. The new category selection widget already has a textbox at the top for adding categories, so this actually wouldn't be a big change. In fact, you could still use it to add categories if the autocomplete doesn't match anything. The only weakness I really see with this sort of control is that you cannot remove categories like you can with the checkbox approach; however, the new display already provides an alternate mechanism for doing so.

A widget that would enable both mouse- and keyboard-based entry would be of great benefit, but it would also take a lot of coding effort. I can understand them being strained for resources to optimize each widget, but I'll cross my fingers.

Comments (3)

I like the analogy that Elise over at gave me: categories are chapters in a book, tags are the index at the end. But I agree, an Ajaxian filter as you type field above would be really nice. These are the subtle nuances that make a good tool a really great tool.

+1 - A filtering textbox would be very useful. This type of filtering currently exists in the modal dialogs: insert asset, create association, etc.


@Jesse: I like that analogy; it fits well with how I'm currently distinguishing the two. I use categories to create 'preferred views' of my site, mini-blogs if you will -- in fact, I have broken off three blogs from this site as a result of their categories becoming too large to manage here. I have 10x as many tags, which I mainly use for cross-referencing (for example, on my MythBusters site, to find myths were they've used the same equipment).

@Beau: thanks again for stopping by -- I hope something clever can be worked out. The level of responsiveness 6A has demonstrated during this beta makes me look forward to the final release.

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