How should subscriptions to Questions and subscriptions to Categories interact?

We soon plan to enable the ability to subscribe to questions to receive updates on new options. These updates will feed into the notifications system (to be renamed “My feed” and split away from the profile).

We also plan to allow users to tailor what categories are shown in the hot/top feed by having a very reddit-like system of default categories and others you can opt-in subscribe to.

My concerns is subscribing to categories and subscribing to questions are very similar in terms of a users expectations, but the previously described system treats those actions very differently. Category subscriptions act a little like the Reddit system, and question subscriptions are direct notifications.

How should these systems interact? How can we ensure users understand the differences? Should both systems be rolled into one?

I personally view the category feed as “discovering new things” and the notification feed as “keeping up to date on things I already like”. However for the example of a category called “android”, I would be happy to receive a direct notification of a new question that gained a lot of attention so I don;t miss it. So in that example there is a lot of overlap in the “notification feed” and the “front page”

I would say keep the category out of personal notifications as much as possible. If you are worried about missing popular questions, then the front page should have an option to filter by popularity, time, and other custom filters.
You could also have a category digest sent to you at the end of the day/week that shows you the most significant question in each category for that day/week. That would be the only time you would get a notification about categories. Digests should have an different color to distinguish them. Alternatively the digest could also sit at the top of the front page until the user closes it.
As for keeping them separated in the users mind, you just have to present them differently. Just as you said categories is for discovery and notifications are for updates. Tell the user out right and they should be ok.

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