Joomla 1.6: Nested Categories vs. Tags

Sections and categories vs. nested categories

In the Joomla 1.5 world, we had sections and categories. Each section had many categories, but each category could have only one section. Many of my students would struggle over how to make their sites work with a section and a category assigned to each article. Since sections and categories tie into functionality like blogs, newsflash, latest news, and more, it’s hard to grasp how sections and categories work without knowing most of Joomla first.

Nested categories are intuitive. The category structure can match the site structure entirely. Set up one set of categories for top level navigation, then nest categories underneath as secondary or tertiary navigation. Think of nested categories as sub-categories. They fit inside of each other, in a vertical orientation.

What is a category?

Many people were excited about nested categories because they had these confused with tags.

A category, in the Joomla sense of the word, is a method for grouping articles under a single heading. Each article is assigned a single category. In Joomla 1.6, you can stack these categories inside of each other. For example, if we were to think of a restaurant website, you might have a nested category structure like this:

  • Restaurants
    • Price level: inexpensive
      • Italian
        • Pizza
        • Spaghetti
      • Chinese
        • Buffets
        • Take out
      • Fast food
    • Price level: expensive
      • Italian
        • Northern Italian
        • Southern Italian
      • American
        • California
        • Fusion

If you were talking about a restaurant that serves pizza, that would be assigned a category of Pizza, which is nested in the category Italian, which is nested in Price level: inexpensive, which is nested under Restaurants.

Note that you can have the category of Italian appear twice. However, in this case, Italian is nested in two distinct areas, one under inexpensive, and the other under expensive. Never shall the two Italians meet!

What is a tag?

A tag is the ability to assign a piece of content (an article, image, category, etc) a number of different labels. You then may be able to list all content sharing that given tag.

In this case, a restaurant serving a variety of American dishes on their menu might offer both California cuisine with some Fusion cuisine as well. However, we are unable to assign the restaurant both attributes with our category structure above. The restaurant is either California, or it’s Fusion, but it can’t be both.

With tags, we would be able to label a given restaurant with all attributes that apply to it. We could tag a restaurant as expensive, American, Italian, California, and Fusion, if the chef likes to cook in a number of different ways! We could also create tags for payment methods, whether they’re open for lunch or dinner or both, and whether reservations are accepted.

Tags can then be used to display specific pieces of information. Imagine a menu item in which I specify a page that should display, in blog format, all articles labeled with specific tags. I could display all restaurants open for lunch only, those which take the Diner’s Club credit card, or those restaurants that have buffets regardless of the kind of cuisine they serve.

We Want Tags!

According to a recent post, tags will be available in Joomla 1.7. This will be a big jump forward for Joomla and its core functionality.

Want tags now? Many of the content construction kit (CCK) extensions offer nested categories and tagging, such as K2. These CCKs are currently compatible with Joomla 1.5 only. It is expected that many third party developers will be moving their extensions to Joomla 1.6, but since Joomla 1.6 is still in beta (with a release candidate expected around November 29), most developers have been waiting for the code base to stabilize before porting their extensions. We should be seeing announcements from developers regarding Joomla 1.6 compatibility for their extensions very soon.

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