Et Cetera: The Catch-all Category for Everything Else

Web designers have to think on many different levels at the same time. That’s another way of saying that we have to think of – and take into account – everything that can possibly go wrong before it happens. Or maybe our brains are just cross-wired to begin with, but sooner or later every web designer comes face to face with the “none of the above” category problem.

Categories are absolutely essential for the design and operation of a website. The categories that the designer installs in the web design determine where on the website each individual article will go but…like the movie and television series “The Highlander…” in the end, there can only be one category per article.

What happens when authors simply can’t decide which category their articles belong in? They start adding categories on the theory that, sooner or later, they will hit the right one. In the meantime, however, they are going to blow the entire website design into smithereens.

That’s why we have introduced a brand new category called Et Cetera, which is Latin for “so on and so forth” (or so we have been told.)

We are encouraging our authors to use Et Cetera when they can’t decide where their articles belong. Problem solved…until WordPress threw a monkey wrench into their code.

Recently, in its infinite collective wisdom, WordPress decided to give users the option of selecting more than one category, with the further option of being able to designate one category as the primary category for that article. The primary category was supposed to determine where the article would appear on the home page, if the home page was designed with areas for each category, as many are

If you want to see the consequences of this alteration, just look at the Home Page on the New York Times website where you will often see the same article in five or six different places on the home page. (Hmm, they’ve been working on this issue. Now, articles are only appearing two or three times on the home page. Progress, of a sort.)

This certainly fills out the home page, but it doesn’t make the home page a better home page. Instead, it actually offers far less information than it appears to offer.

If we had installed this new arrangement, every now and then a new contributor would come on board looking to make a big splash in our small pond by loading up his or her articles with more categories so that the article will appear in more places on the website.

That’s absolutely true, but it is also absolutely devastating to our website’s design because, all of a sudden, the same article is appearing under sports, health, science, technology, and media. Having the same article appearing all over the website might good for that author, but it is bad for everyone else.

The only thing worse than having too many categories is having none at all, which leaves the article in question hanging out there in limbo somewhere, looking for an audience.

Our first attempt to solve the category problem was to install a plugin called, appropriately enough, “Require Post Category.” This installs a widget that, when activated, prevents the user from posting an article without a category attached to it. Unfortunately, it did not stop users from adding more than one category.

Then we found something called “Categories Metabox Enhanced,” which restricts the user to selecting one and only one category from a drop box. Sound perfect, but it comes fully equipped with a drawback of its own: it allows the user to screw up by selecting a categories that the user isn’t supposed to use.

Just as the Et Cetera category was added to give users a choice when they couldn’t decide which category to use, the Categories Metabox gives users a chance to screw up by selecting the wrong category.

So far, so good. We’re still in the testing stages but we’re getting near the new release date. Stand by for details.

(For the record, we are running this plugin on the Themify Newsy theme. Your results may differ if you are using another theme.)