Navigation sidebar, permissions, groups and large sites UX bug

I’ve been moving our sites navigation over to the new sidebar system.

As its a large site there’s far too many categories to have them all in a list, it would be a useless mountain. I use category permissions so users see a navigation list which reflects the groups they have joined. Or to say it another way, users join groups and then only see what is directly relevant to them in the navigation (which i believe is the recommended solution for large sites).

The navigation now works well for users who can easily navigate to their main areas of the site, but the issue created with this setup is that users are now unable to see other areas of the sites at all. If they click a link to an area they aren’t in the group for they are met with a ‘Not found page’. If they join all groups, or we set permissions to make all categories visible the sidebar navigation becomes too long and unusable.

The behavior i expect to see is a set of categories that all users can see and reply to, but which only appear in the navigation sidebar for the selected groups.

Something like a fourth permissions box we don’t yet have for categories. An ‘in navigation’ box, so large sites can set the navigation up for different groups of users, but without blocking access completely to areas of the site which we don’t want to be totally private.

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Not 100% sure what you are asking, but you can use my group navigation menu theme component and add links to specific categories in various custom group menus.

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Thanks @Lilly. I did look at your plugin but don’t think it fits quite to the use case i’m struggling with.

Lets say a site has around 40 groups and 40 categories/sub-categories. The categories/sub-categories are user specific, for example skills like ‘UX Design, or Public Relations’. These need to be Categories rather than groups as users want to use project management plugins like thread voting, kanban, calendars, etc.

Your plugin is designed with the same issue in mind, but i’d need to create a new section for each group/sub-category pair, it would work but the limit is 8 which is far too low.

Right now i’ve set it so only members who’ve joined groups can see those categories/subs, which makes the navigation menu perfect as its a menu customized for each individual users use of the platform. It breaks the rest of the site though as members sometimes want to interact with, or link to, an area they don’t often visit, and right now those areas are hidden from them.

What i believe is missing is a way for members to visit and interact with a larger number of a sites categories/subs, but hides them from their main navigation based on their group choices.

I suggested a fourth category permission as it would scale better if the proposed expansion of the groups page to allow users to create their own groups, and having groups of groups, goes ahead, but tackling it directly in the sidebar as you’ve done Lilly would be a solution.

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I’ve been thinking more about this, and have a suggestion to improve/solve UX issues for large sites with a modification of @Lilly’s excellent navigation sidebar mod, which almost solves this issue.

In the current system users create a custom menu and then choose which groups can see it.


My suggestion is to edit the component to have: ‘display category/subcategory to these groups only’ also, or instead if its a different component.

The admin then selects a category (the same modal currently there, but set for categories instead)

Admins add the groups categories are visible to below and the existing modal is perfect for this.


the new navigation sidebar is supposed to fix UX but on a large site it becomes cluttered quickly as not all users will often visit all categories, unless the forum is narrowly focused.

If its spread out across a range of areas the sidebar turns into a wall of too much information, or you have to limit what’s there which isn’t good for user experience if users favourite area is missed.

This change would allows sites to set the sidebar to show users only categories related to the groups that they’ve joined, making navigation easy and to also keep all non-private categories and sub-categories open to everyone. Currently its either one or the other.


I think I understand your use-case now and what you are trying to achieve. You want to control the navigation menu categories section links per groups but without actually limiting access to those categories. The main issue is that users can customize their own category menu section and should be encouraged to do so. I don’t think you want to override that part of the user’s menu preferences. If you have a lot of groups and categories, it may get difficult to manage this without a custom component.

For the categories menu section, users can just click the pencil icon to do this:

So, other than the overriding user preferences part, I think we’re basically talking about a group-categories-menu component - groups get a specific menu of categories available to them by default, but they are not limited to visiting other categories. I’ve actually worked on something like this off and on in the past couple months. :thinking:

How many groups and categories/subcategories are you working with on your forum?


Yes, perhaps you’re right.

I know that many/most users won’t do that and for them it’ll be a mess, so i was wanting a way to set it up initially for them but maybe its better to push them to learn how to do it themselves.

My other worry is that where groups and categories are the same/similar, some users are going to get mixed up and think they are joining or leaving a group when just removing it from the sidebar, and the same issue joining/leaving groups on the groups page.

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I don’t know if theme components can prevent this, but hiding categories with CSS wouldn’t prevent them from loading, potentially leading anyway to the slowness you experience when all your categories are loaded in the sidebar. :thinking:


@Lilly kindly suggested a fix which we tried out, but unfortunately the UX issue for large sites with multiple purposes remains.

Lily’s suggestion was to manually create all the categories and subcategories like this:


I gave it a try but unfortunately it breaks down when some categories/subcategories need to be hidden as the ‘Add custom section’ functionality creates sections with links that are visible to everyone, and so any hidden groups can’t be included. Members who don’t have permission to view them can see the link but can’t see the page it links to if they click it.

Instructing users to set their own sidebar up is a cool feature but isn’t good UX for new users who don’t yet know what is and isn’t important to them and should be guided by the navigation to that.

If there was a way to set the user permissions the navigation sidebar acts on that would solve it, without needing to create a fourth permission box.

Right now if a user can ‘see’ a cat/sub it shows in the navigation sidebar. If the sidebar had an option to only show cat/subs that users are able to ‘reply’ or ‘create’ that would give a lot more options for customising configuration. In my use case users would be able to see everything on the platform, but only see the cat/subs they have subscribed to in the navigation sidebar making their experience, especially when new, far more focused and less overwhelming.

We then use group permissions to allow them to choose what they want to interact with most often.


Yea I just collapsed the category groups and those were the headers. Seemed like a logical way to organize the categories in the navigation menu.


The way i see this issue:

  • Having users join interest groups when they join the site isn’t great UX, but its not too off-putting.
  • Having those interest groups dictate users site navigation is perfectly reasonable and creates a site focused around the user, which is pretty awesome.
  • Blocking off the ability to view all other areas of the site to achieve that isn’t an acceptable trade off as it breaks down the ability of all users to communicate and explore outside of their direct interests.

My suggested solution would be:
A 3 setting toggle in the sidebar settings which says ‘set initial user navigation sidebar settings by showing only categories/subs they have permission to either 1.view 2.reply 3. create’.

Users would then begin with the sidebar setup based on the groups they’ve told the site they are interested in, which makes initial onboarding and finding their way around far easier in a large site, but they are still be able to customize their navigation themselves afterwards by clicking the navigation sidebars edit button (which is a fantastic function for onboarded users, but not good to ask new users what is important in a site they aren’t yet familiar with).

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I ran a survey with some new users. Despite being told explicitly that they should edit the sidebar when they joined the site, most didn’t do that and so were left using a site with a wall of categories and subs.

To me it makes sense that users who are new to a site don’t yet know what is and isn’t relevant to them so asking them to manually edit their sidebar leads to them being apprehensive to remove things.