Wednesday, January 04, 2006

How To Add Categories to Blogger (for Computer Illiterates)

12-7-06 IMPORTANT UPDATE: The new Blogger Beta offers the ability to add "categories" to your blog in the form of "labels". For more information, visit this article.

Well during the recent Christmas/New Year's break, I took some vacation time in addition to the holidays for a nice long stretch away from work. Instead of my usual sporadic posting, I decided to work on a project I've long wanted to undertake: adding categories to my blog. If you are a "blogspot" blogger, you already know that Blogger does not support categories. Many blog software programs have a built-in capability for categorizing posts; unfortunately, Blogger's lack of this feature is the biggest shortcoming of an otherwise good, reliable (and free) system. However, I am proud to announce that after much labor, Jordan's View finally has categories (say Hip hip hooray 3 times please)!

Well, you may ask, "how the heck did you do it"? "Are you some kind of genius, or more likely, an idiot savant?" No no, I am not, I assure you. The answer, in two words: Google, baby. That is, I researched various methods for adding categories to Blogger via the Google search engine, and found that many really smart people out there had recognized this problem and developed, not just one, but a truckload of ingenious techniques for adding categories to Blogger. Now I was looking for the easiest, quickest way, because baby, I have better things to do with my time, quite frankly. However, as I tend to be a bit anal, I spent hours exhaustively researching all the various methods, just to torture myself (I guess I am a bit of a geek, after all).

Advantages of the method described below
But the benefit of all my suffering to you is, I am going to tell you exactly how to add categories to your Blogger blog, just the way I did it. And, since my "adding categories" method is for computer illiterates, it will assume you know next to nothing, except perhaps how to turn on your computer. Of course if you are a bit more computer savvy, this should all be quite simple. Now if you don't want to use this foolproof "DUMMIES-style" method, I will point you in the direction of the best website on this subject, which summarizes (and has links to) all the various methods for adding categories to Blogger (see below). That way, you too can torture yourself endlessly trying to decide among all the options and then, spend hours in futility as you try (in vain) to apply one of these complex methods (after all, we geeks ought to suffer together). Just kidding... Actually, there are many good approaches to this problem, and the solution you choose will depend upon your goals and your level of knowledge. But here are the advantages of the system for adding categories that I will show you below:

  1. You don't need any outside software, scripts, bookmarklets or websites to set it up, or to maintain it.
  2. I will try to provide a very clear, step-by-step explanation of how to implement it.
  3. If you blog pretty regularly, then most of the steps here will be easy and familiar to you.

Best website with summary of various solutions
In my research, the best site I found presenting the many solutions to the Blogger category problem is Freshblog- Blogger Hacks- The Series. This geek has really done his homework, I tell ya. This page presents a summary of the various methods, with links to each. What's great is that the many methods I had discovered through my Google searches are all covered on this one site. Now if you're like me, you want the easiest method, with clear instructions on how to actually do it. Some of the methods described on this site provide better instructions than others.

Types of solutions available
There are solutions involving the creation of multiple blogs, but these all seemed time-consuming and complex to me. Then there are many solutions that make use of tags to create categories-- I have seen this solution implemented on a number of blogs, and was quite impressed with the results. Categorizing using this method also promises the additional benefit of making your blog interactive with other blogs and sites, via the emerging new world of tagging. This seems really cool, except for one thing-- I don't understand it very well, and baby, I just don't have the time to rack my brains trying to figure it all out. I was looking for something quick and easy, if possible. You may ask, "why does this guy keep on saying baby, does he think he's Austin Powers?"-- really, I am not sure myself-- I think I have basically lost my mind from spending too much time in front of the computer.

Solutions I attempted
Now I have to admit, I tried to implement what looked like it would be the fastest, easiest, and most painless solution, from this site: netcfr. Certainly it was lightning fast in terms of generating categories for my blog, but, in order for the system to really work, it seemed to necessitate that I re-title all previous blog posts by adding Category names to the titles (e.g., Category: About Jordan's View...Post Title), which I did not find very appealing. Another limitation is that the mechanism this system uses is the Google search already within Blogger, which would then search your posts by the created category keyword-- however, this script would only search your first 100 posts. If your blog exceeds 100 posts, the system won't be able to find all the posts belonging to a particular category, because it won't search everything. So this solution wasn't going to work for me.

So now, I was desperate enough to consider giving one of the "" methods for creating categories a try. This method seemed daunting and scary since I know very little about "tagging" via bookmarks or Technorati. But I wanted categories enabled on my blog real bad, and I was willing to try anything! So I began the process and went as far as getting the cool "Greasemonkey" extension installed in my Firefox browser, through which I in turn installed these 2 amazing javascripts that enabled me to be able to add and Technorati tags to every Blogger post. The thing is, I couldn't figure out what I then needed to add to my template, in order to make the tagging system work as categories-- and, I couldn't find a decent explanation of this in any of the "how-to" pages. Now if you're familiar with and Technorati tagging, applying this solution might make sense for you, but for me it really wasn't clicking (no pun intended). OK. At last, we come to the solution I did find and use.

How to Add Categories to Blogger

One final thing, before I begin my step-by-step explanation. I have to admit (though I don't want to), that I did not come up with this great idea. No, this wonderful solution comes from Theater of Noise, in this post- Article Categories The Easy Way . You may want to visit his site, to see if his explanation is clearer than what follows. But anyway, here is my step-by-step, detailed explanation of how I used Theater of Noises' method to create categories for my blog.

First of all, here is what you will end up with on your blog, once you have successfully completed the process outlined below:

You will create, in the sidebar of your blog, a section titled "Categories" (or whatever else you want to call it), with the category names you have created appearing underneath this title. Each category name will link to a post you have created for that category. Each "category post" will contain links to all the articles in your blog you have designated for that category. Readers of your blog will now be able to click on any of your Category names, which will open to your category post. Then they can click on a link to read any of the posts you have designated for that category. Sounds good? Click here to view an example of a Category page from my blog. OK, let's get started.

1. First, decide the names for all the categories you are going to use [you probably want to give this careful consideration, and select category names you're likely to keep using and which fit it in well with the mission/purpose of your blog. You may decide to have broad categories, in which case you'll probably need fewer total categories. Or, you may desire more narrowly defined categories, which may increase the total # of categories you will create. I ended up with about 10 or 11 categories in all; with this method, one can always add or subtract categories in the future].

2. Decide to which categories you want to assign each of your previous posts [Note: you may decide to assign certain posts to more than one category, as I did]. To view all previous post titles-- sign in to Blogger, click on New Post, then click "Edit Posts". Make sure you can view all your posts by clicking the appropriate number (50, 100, 300) from "Select". Now that you've chosen your categories, and can see all previous posts, assign each post to a category in your mind, or on paper (at this point, you may also consider whether or not you have decided upon enough appropriate categories). To keep track, you may want to write down the categories on a piece of paper, and then underneath each category, decide which posts you will include in that category. I wrote down my category names on a sheet of paper, and then kept track of all the posts I needed to categorize by keeping the "Edit Posts" page open in a separate tab, during the entire process.

2. Create a blog post per category, each of which will contain a bulleted (also known as un-ordered) list of titles/links for every post you include in the category. For example, say you want to create a category about your website. You would create a new post and perhaps call it "Category: About My Website". Within this post, you now create a bulleted list of titles/links to each individual post that you have selected to be part of this category. You need to also decide in what order you want the posts to appear within the category. In my case, I decided to order posts from most recent at the top, to least recent at the bottom.

3. How to create the bulleted links in your Category post. You will need to know, not only the title, but also the URL (web address) of each post you want to create a link for. From your "Edit Posts" page, clicking "View" for any post will open up that post in a new page; better yet, open it in a new tab, if you know how to do that (see, I told you this is for "dummies"). Once you have the page or tab open, the information that appears in the address bar of your browser (this is usually visible at the top of the browser) is the URL (web address) for that particular post.

Now that you have the URL and title go here to learn how to create the link, and here to learn how to arrange the links as a bulleted list.

Once you have finished creating all of your "category posts", the next step is to create a "Categories" section within your sidebar that will link to each of your category posts. This is accomplished by modifying the sidebar section of your blog template.

4. Create a "Categories" section within your sidebar that will link to each of your category posts. From the "Change Settings" section in Blogger, click on "Template". Before making any changes, copy your entire template by left clicking and then highlighting all of the code for the entire template; right click to copy and then right click again to paste the template in your Notepad program. Save a copy of the template on your desktop. This way, if anything goes wrong in making changes to the template, you can always restore it back to the way it was before by copying/pasting the saved template information back into the template section.

Create the sidebar title. You will find helpful information about how to format a sidebar title here. Now create the link to each of your category posts, in the order you want them to appear. The proper format for creating links is described here.

As you are creating this section, you can click on "Preview" at anytime to see if the section is appearing correctly. The html code must be entered precisely otherwise it will not render properly. Once everything is appearing correctly, click on "Save Template Changes", Republish your blog, and voila, you now have categories! Congratulations!

6. Maintenance. Now whenever you have a new post, you will need to decide into which category you want to place it, and then you will modify the appropriate category post by adding the title/link of the new article to the post. If perhaps you need to create an entirely new category, then follow the above process to do a new Category post and add the link to your template.

I hope this has been helpful to you. I don't think I can offer much in the way of support if you have questions. If you are completely desperate, drop me a line.

Blessings to you!

P.S. I just came across yet another great method from A Consuming Experience for adding categories to Blogger blogs, with similarities to the method I describe above, but involving more changes to your template. The step-by-step howto can be found in this post How to include categories for your blog (manual, expand-collapse). I may even give this method a try when I get a chance, because the resulting categories are a lot more sophisticated-- via the show/hide mechanism, the names of all posts included under your categories can be seen right on the main page. Cool!

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