Wiki Help/Wiki Categories
This page explains the concept of wiki categories, they way they are on this site's wiki engine. It can be quite confusing, so please add your questions in italic after the paragraphs you don't understand and someone knowledgeable will eventually add answers.
- 1 What are they?
- 2 What categories are not
- 3 Which is the category and which is the page title?
- 4 How do we use them?
- 5 Special feature: the menu path
- 6 Should we use categories on this wiki?
- 2 What categories are not
Wiki categories tend to be a bit confusing. First because the exact meaning and behaviour of categories varies from one wiki engine to another; second, because they are not exactly similar to hard-drive directories, yet people tend to think they are.
Simply put, categories are just pages that contain slashes (/) in their name. The page you are reading right now is such a page.
There is no kind of separation performed due to the slash! The page title is simply made of one piece, and it contains slashes. It's not a filesystem path. Pretend the slash was a dash if it helps.
They are not a classification system. A true classification system would allow any page to state that it belongs to any number of categories, or the other way around, categories would be able to state what pages belong to them.
They are not a full hierarchical system. They emulate some kind of hierarchical system, but it's all based on common consent and self implied, not enforced in any way.
You could say that all the segments of the title separated by slashes (except for the last) are category names, and the last segment is the page name. But that's not really true: This/That is a different page from That or from This. There doesn't have to be a page called That or This if This/That exists.
The name itself is therefore misleading, because there isn't actually a "category" to speak of, it's just several pages (such as This/That and This/Foobar) that start with This/. It's just a convention, that's all that is.
As you may have noticed in the above paragraph, you can also use a shortcut notation: /WikiLinks is a link which points to the same page as WikiHelp/WikiLinks. But that's only true because right now we're on the WikiHelp/WikiCategories page. In other words, when you use the shortcut notation (ie. start with a slash) the engine takes the current page's name without the last segment and prepends it to your link. So this notation only produces the desired result if used on a page which is also in the same "category".
The shorthand notation is useful because the links are easier to read, but be careful with it because it may not always produce the result you intended.
As you may have noticed, in the top menu there is a shortcut to the WikiHelp page. The wiki engine examined this page's title, saw the slash, and decided it's most likely that the WikiHelp page exists and that the community probably intended for it to be higher in the "hierarchy" than this page. So it created a link to it.
Most often this presumption is correct. Of course, not always. There may have been no WikiHelp page and then the above link would've been a "create this page" link.
Anyway, this feature aims to provide some kind of "path navigation" system and is most often useful even though there's not really such thing as a hierarchy with these "categories".
There's an ongoing debate whether categories should never be used, always be used (ie. all pages should be in a category) or whether they should be used sparingly.
- They really do help in determining at a glance what wiki pages are closely related, and maintaining some kind of organization among the pages. Without using them at all it would be a bit of a mess.
- They can be really confusing and/or non-intuitive.
- It can get tedious to write long links and if someone decides to use just the short page name (ie. WikiHelp/WikiLinks versus just WikiLinks?) you have to track the duplicates down and put a "see the other one" note on one of them.
- Someone may decide to use them in a way that doesn't sit well with others.