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Breadcrumbs allow users to keep track of locations within websites. They show the path used to achieve the resource. But if the resource could have different categories, has the sense to create multiple breadcrumbs or which is the correct one?

For example, if we need to organize writers, we can catalog them differently:

Writers // Origin // England // William Shakespeare
Writers // Periods // XVI century // William Shakespeare
Writers // Schools // Dramaturgy // William Shakespeare

Could it be correct to put all three breadcrumbs on a page?

  • Is this to be shown if someone navigates to a page directly, or when then have started on "Writers", and clicked links to get there? How is the URL displayed: do you have www.MyWeb.Site/Writers/Origin/England/William%20Shakespeare.php and www.MyWeb.Site/Writers/Periods/XVI%20century/William%20Shakespeare.php as aliases for the same page, or just www.MyWeb.Site/pages/William%20Shakespeare_(writer).php for all 3 routes? – Chronocidal Apr 29 at 16:06
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    The last sentence of the first paragraph is incomprehensible. Can you fix it? – Peter Mortensen Apr 29 at 18:09
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    @PeterMortensen Dunno, doesn't seem that difficult to parse to me. "But, if the resource could have different categories, does it make sense to create multiple sets of breadcrumbs? If not, which set is "correct" and how do I pick it?" – Asteroids With Wings May 1 at 14:04
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It's not a good idea to break the convention of a single breadcrumb path. Because of how breadcrumbs are generally designed it's fair to assume that people expect them to make it possible to:

  • see where they are
  • see how they got there
  • navigate back in the path

Multiple breadcrumb paths would probably make this very difficult if not impossible.

If you want to make your breadcrumb path more interactive with the possibility to navigate back over multiple branches you can make use of dropdown menu's.

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The dropdowns contain links to the other pages on the same level. So it doesn't change the breadcrumb path (that wouldn't be correct), the links just immediately navigate to the different categories.

enter image description here

It is not a very usual pattern so it requires some user testing to know if and how to implement this.

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    I don't think we can still call them breadcrumbs at that point. – Mast Apr 30 at 20:18
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Breadcrumbs are the wrong concept for your use case

Your problem, as you have found out: There are multiple valid routes from the currently selected item Shakespeare to its category Writer. Breadcrumbs, however, are at their best when there is only one route.

What to do?

Use tags on the items. Following your example, Shakespeare would be tagged with England, XVI century and Dramaturgy. Tags are usually displayed using chips.

Tags displayed as chips

The tag system has quite a few advantages:

  • It improves discoverability, as a user can immediately read all categories your system provides without leaving the page or clicking anything

  • It will also improve uncertain search, as the user can provide more than one tag to search

  • It will require no more space than is needed to spell out the categories

All in all, the tag system will not only be better once you are at a writer's page, it will also streamline your way of finding one (or multiple) Writers. Users are also already deeply familiar with the concept by their usage of online shops.

To provide tags, users usually select a filter and apply that. Just visit any online shop (except maybe Amazon) and look at their concept. A dropdown menu with multiple-select will probably suffice, but in case you have more complex needs, ebay opens a modal dialog ("eBay: Advanced search dialog displays parameter values as radio buttons.") to let users supply filters.

And your breadcrumb? It would simply be:

Writers // William Shakespeare

for bookmarking and sharing filters, your URL could display:

example.org/writers?origin=England&Schools=Dramaturgy
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12

A page has one breadcrumb. After all, it's located in only one location within the site. Showing three breadcrumbs at once seems a bit odd. It looks to me like you're a bit confused about the function of sitemaps. Sitemaps (and by extension, breadcrumbs) are an overview showing the structure of your website. You visualize where the pages are nested.

The way you display your breadcrumbs looks more like a tag; Shakespeare is from England, XVI century and he wrote dramaturgy - all at once. That's fine, and you can show that with related tags. But information about him in that role shouldn't be fragmented across three pages. Rather, users would expect a dedicated page with anything related to Shakespeare, and of course, be linked to other useful and related information elsewhere on your site.

Where am I? Breadcrumbs inform visitors of their location in relation to the entire site hierarchy.

Where can I go? Breadcrumbs improve the findability of site sections and pages. The structure of the site is more easily understood when it is laid out in a breadcrumb.

Should I go there? Breadcrumbs communicate content value and encourage browsing. (Source: https://usersnap.com/blog/breadcrumbs/)

You need to look at your sitemap (which is what breadcrumbs refer to) and see where within your site's structure you can place topics. You can use card sorting and other techniques to find logical clusters of information.

Of course, you can cross-reference to your William Shakespeare page from any of your three examples.

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    Who's to say a given page/resource isn't accessible via ("located at") several paths? I think OP is suggesting exactly a site where that is the case. – KlaymenDK Apr 29 at 12:18
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    @KlaymenDK It is possible when you think of it as 'nodes', but OP specifically wanted to use breadcrumbs for that purpose, and that's not what they're meant for. – Wendy Wojenka Apr 29 at 13:40
  • "After all, it's located in only one location within the site" That hasn't been guaranteed true since the early 90s. – Asteroids With Wings May 1 at 14:05
  • That depends on if you view the breadcrumb as a page location marker, or a 'path' you followed. OP seemed to be talking about the former, hence my answer. @AsteroidsWithWings made a good comment regarding that. Other than that, I agree with both you and KlaymenDK that a complex website will have more ways that lead to one page, but the page itself will still be categorized somewhere specific. – Wendy Wojenka May 4 at 9:47
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I share the same opinion as Wendy. How the user got to that page is not really relevant, so the breadcrumbs are unique.

A suggestion for a change in the site map that will allow all the categories in the same breadcrumb would be:

Writers > England > Dramaturgy > XVI century > William Shakespeare

And also, I would like to reference a similar question that can be found here.

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Wikipedia already does this

See, for example, the 'Programming paradigms' box on the Wikipedia page for object-oriented programming.

As the other answers discuss, what you're describing isn't really a breadcrumb, it's a sitemap. You're showing the user the other categories they can view on your site. Depending on the size of your site, you could just include a whole section of your sitemap on each page. (If necessary, you could hide sub-pages below a certain nesting level, and only expand those nesting levels for the particular page the user is on).

The main benefit of a sitemap is that it contains all the information the user needs, or makes that information accessible as easy as possible. If the user wants to see what Polish writers there are, it only takes one click rather than two. Also, a sitemap is consistent from anywhere on the website, so the user can easily develop familiarity with it.

The sitemap is something the reader might reference while they are reading the William Shakespeare page, but they would only read it if they're interested in someone other than William Shakespeare. Thus, rather than just listing categories that William Shakespeare is in, it's helpful to list all the other categories someone might want to move to.

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I read, and consequently investigated, the idea that every page on Wikipedia finds its roots in Philosophy.

Clicking the first link in the first descriptive paragraph will take you on a path that leads back to the Philosophy entry.

This is not breadcrumb, nor site map, but I think related to what the concept is that you are seeking to represent on your proposed William Shakespeare page.

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  • Welcome to User Experience! That would be an interesting path you describe, but it's much too long to serve as a navigation possibility. – Glorfindel May 7 at 20:13

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